The Travels of a Journalist—13 An Australian Adventure: From the Top End back to Central Queensland
Posted on February 17th, 2010

By Shelton A. Gunaratne c 2010

The Forday family of Darwin””‚Harry Forday; his sister, Pauline; his daughter-in-law Sylvia and her daughters Penney and Leanne””‚gave my wife Yoke-Sim and me a warm welcome at the Darwin coach terminal on Saturday (27 Dec. 1978) early afternoon. Apparently, the Forday family of Rockhampton, headed by Albert and Winnie, had advised their relatives in Darwin to accord us their “royal” treatment! Harry took us to his home in Rapid Creek (2 Roma Place) and made us his guests. He had already prepared us a hearty lunch of prawns.

On the Top End

Later in the afternoon, the Fordays took us on a tour of Darwin (population 120,700), the capital city of Northern Territory, located on a low bluff overlooking the Timor Sea. Starting from Rapid Creek, we drove northeast to see the community college, the Royal Darwin Hospital and the free beach in Casuarina; and the fishing area at Lee Point.  We stopped at Berrimah in the southeast for ice cream, and drove through Winnellie in the south and Stuart Park, where I sighted the Ceylon Restaurant, in the southwest. The compact city surrounds the Darwin Airport. Then we toured the area covering the Darwin Botanical Gardens, in the vicinity of downtown Darwin. We returned via Mindil Beach and Fannie Bay. Palmerston, Darwin’s satellite city, lies to the south on the Stuart Highway.

Earlier, we dropped by at the home of Pauline and John at Ludmilla. Later, they joined us for dinner, before which a heavy rainstorm blacked out our area.

We got up very early next morning to join the 6 o’clock Sunrise Wild Tour ($18/adult) to see the flora and the fauna along the first 100 km of the Arnhem Highway on the western edge of the Nature Reserve linking Howard Springs, Humpty Doo, Fogg Dam and Marrakai Plains. We had the company of a Japanese and a couple from Western Australia on this tour. The giant termite-mounds we saw were awesome compared to those I had seen in Sri Lanka. Although we did not make it to the Kakadu National Park, we at least had the satisfaction of experiencing the wildlife along the highway that would have taken us there.

Having returned to the city by noon, Yoke-Sim and I ate lunch at Woolworths and got acquainted with the layout of Darwin. We visited the public library, the chamber of the Legislative Council and the Chinese Joss House. When Harry came to pick us up at 5 p.m., Yoke-Sim presented him with a hefty bag of groceries.

Harry had organized a dinner party in honor of us that evening. This gave us the opportunity to meet the other members of the Forday family and a number of other local Chinese.

Friday (29 Dec.) morning, Harry dropped us off at the Casuarina Shopping Center, where Penney provided us guidance. In the afternoon, Vincent and Beverly Hee of Fannie Bay took us on a tour of Berry Springs in the Territory Wildlife Park, 56 km south of Darwin. Then they drove us another 13 km south to see the Darwin River Dam. On the return journey, they stopped briefly at Jack the Slasher and the Yarrowonga Zoo. Later, we had a dip in the Hees’ swimming pool and joined them for dinner. Much later, after we came back to Rapid Creek, Yoke-Sim joined our hosts to visit the family of Tim Forday while I watched on television the first day’s play of the third England-Australia cricket test in Melbourne.

The Fordays were remarkable hosts who took immense pains to make us feel at home in Darwin. Our company was their pleasure. They accompanied us to the coach terminal Saturday morning to say good-bye.

Backtracking The Track

 The Stuart Highway begins in all its glory as a dual carriageway for 30 km from Darwin to Howard Springs. It continues as National 1 for another 190 km southeast to Katherine (population 9,200), once a gold town now better known for its gorge and river bearing the same name. The Track continues from Katherine onwards as National 87 down to the SA border where it becomes A87.

Our destination on this coach ride was Mount Isa, Qld., 1,650 km southeast from Darwin on the main highway. Of this distance, 990 km would be backtracking The Track down to Three Ways (north of Tennant Creek), where we would turn east on Barkly Highway to cross the Queensland border.

The coach captain on this trip was the same one who brought us to Darwin on Wednesday. His smile of recognition summed up more than thousand words of a greeting. Our lunch stop was Katherine.  The next break was at Daly Waters, where we saw a Progress Hall with nothing in it. The dinner stop was Dunmarra (637 km from Darwin), where our coach captain completed his shift. Here we had the time to walk to the woods across the highway to observe some wildlife near the lake. The bag of cooked prawns that Harry Forday passed on to us before our departure served as our lunch, as well as the dinner.

Our new coach captain took us all the way to the Three Ways Roadhouse, 330 km further south at the Stuart-Barkly highway intersection, where we arrived at 10.20 p.m. Here we were delighted to run into a young South Australian couple””‚Hank and Anna Doolette””‚ that we got acquainted with at the Uluru. They were on their way to Darwin. One hour later, our bus headed southeast on Barkly Highway with two new drivers.

 Mt Isa Experience

The coach crossed over to the border town of Camooweal in Queensland while we were asleep. We reached Mount Isa (population 22,600) about 7 a.m. Sunday (31 Dec.). We were walking to our motel when a ” Good Samaritan,” Arthur Yamaguchi of the Kalkadoon Aboriginal Sobriety House, offered us a ride. He dropped us at Copper City Motel, where we checked in and ate breakfast. 

In the afternoon, we set out on a walking tour of the city. We went to the City Lookout and stopped by at the infamous Boyd Hotel, where Nevillle Bonner, the aboriginal senator from Queensland, had been refused service. The barmaid asked Yoke-Sim what she wanted to drink without paying attention to me. We wondered whether this was a subtle expression of color resentment. We ate dinner at Kentucky Fried Chicken. On the way back to our motel, we visited the Salvation Army.

We relaxed on the New Year’s Day morning. Because of unbearable heat, I decided to celebrate the New Year by jumping into the motel’s swimming pool both morning and evening.

In the afternoon, we joined a free tour of the Mt Isa Holdings Ltd. mine on the western edge of the city. Ray Pagett, a public relations man from the company, picked us up at the Memorial Swimming Pool for the tour, which took almost two hours. Pagett, originally from Birmingham, England, gave thorough details as he drove our party from point to point on the mine surface. I was impressed with the mine’s new cement stack towering so high, although a tad smaller than the Empire State.

Next, we joined Horst Horkins’ Tiki Hi tour of the Kalkadoon Park, the venue of the annual rodeo; and Lake Moondara, which provided Mt. Isa’s water supply. Horst took us on the dirt roads around the lake to show the abundance of wildlife.

On our third day in Mt Isa, we joined Horst’s full-day Tiki Hi tour of the Selwyn Range area””‚a safari on a 4WD covering some 220 km. for $20/person. Our group comprised the Ahrens, a couple from Brisbane; Davy, Horst’s small son and helpmate; Yoke-Sim and I. 

The highlights were visits to Mary Kathleen, a uranium-mining town; the abandoned Rosebud Dam; Balara, an abandoned copper-mining settlement; Lady Jenny Camp, where silica mining has replaced copper; Wee McGregor copper leeching mine; a field where visitors could pick Maltese Cross stones; and the Mt Frosty open-cut calcite mine. We thanked Horst for the “very interesting and unusual tour.”

Davy played his role by giving us a demonstration of eating “blood apples,” bugs and all. I adamantly refused Davy’s generous offer to eat them. We learned a lot about the outback and the bushrangers on this safari.

Grand Finale

On Wednesday (3 Jan. 1979) morning, we left Mt Isa (in northwestern Queensland) for Townsville (in north Queensland), 904 km away. We proceeded via Cloncurry, the birthplace of the Qantas Airlines. Our refreshment stop was Julia Creek and the lunch stop Hughenden, where we arrived at 2 p.m.  Our route took almost a horizontal eastern direction up to this point; then it took a gradual northeasterly direction up to Charters Towers, and a steeper diagonal direction from there. We reached Townsville about 7.30 p.m. We crossed paths with the young South Australian couple, the Doolettes, again on this trip.

Our original travel plans came to an abrupt end in Townsville because rains caused by Cyclone Peter had made the roads to Cairns impassable. So we checked in at Coral House in Hale Street for the night.

The next morning, we learned about the official cancellation of the bus service to Cairns. Therefore, Yoke-Sim and I spent the morning in downtown Townsville exploring the shops and the arcades.

At the bus terminal we were told that the southbound coach had room for both of us if we wanted to make the 700-km journey back to Rockhampton. We accepted the offer.

About 6 p.m., we stopped for dinner at Proserpine, where I chanced into Jan Ward, a former journalism student of mine. She told me she was about to change her reporter’s job from the Proserpine to the Townsville newspaper. We returned to Rockhampton at 1.30 a.m. on Friday (5 Jan. 1979).

We visited Cairns from 8-11 Jan. using the same Aussie Pass with no extra fees because our originally planned trip was disrupted for no fault of ours. On Tuesday (9 Jan.), we visited the Green Island. On Wednesday, we toured the Atherton Tablelands via the Cairns-Kuranda scenic route. We celebrated the successful completion of our long journey with a spicy Indian dinner at Thuggee Bill Restaurant on Aplin Street.   

Next: Tiki Touring New Zealand

(The writer is professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead.)

Figure 1: The last leg of our tour route from Darwin, NT, to Rockhampton, Qld. Floods forced us to return to Rockhampton on 5 Jan. 1979. We completed the Townsville-Cairns roundtrip (8-11 Jan.) on the same Aussie Pass with no additional fees.

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