Mount Isa and Brisbane - 11-21/01/15

Caption competition - send your answers on a postcard to .......!!

The bus for Mount Isa drew in to Longreach dead on time and completely empty, except for one elderly Chinese lady.  She got off in Cloncurry, so for the last hour and a half we had a private "stretch limo" with a very chatty driver who filled us in with his life story as well as a lot of interesting information about the area we were travelling through.  By this time, the landscape had become more hilly and less parched, but still clearly a harsh environment in which to make a living.  This road is regularly cut by flooding at this time of year (it happened while we were staying in Mt Isa when roads to Townsville and Brisbane were impassable), so we were pleased to get through without delay.

Mount Isa is a mining town - beginning and end of story.  You can see the huge chimneys from miles away and they dominate the landscape from every part of the city.  The landscape around is beautiful and there is a pleasant drive out to the reservoir that serves the city, but there is nothing else attractive to look at, except the really stunning view at sunset over the mine from the town lookout.  Multiple photos were taken, but they don't really do the scene justice!  The point about going there is to learn about the mine - one of the largest in Australia and the world.  Lead, copper, zinc and silver are all abundant here (and there's probably gold too, but they don't talk about that, although it may well pay for the mine's operating costs as the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville did during its working life).  It was good to be in a place that lives in the present, after the slightly melancholy "museum-like" feeling generated in Longreach and surrounds.  Having said that, much of the excellent Visitor Centre in Mount Isa is given over to relating the past, but only inasmuch as it explains the present.  We took full advantage of everything on offer (we were there three days and there really isn't anything else to do!), including the underground mine tour, guided by an ex-miner, which was fascinating - just the right mix of technical stuff and personal recollections, as is the museum.  The demonstration area that we visited was cooled by fans and conditions in the actual mine are much better than when our guide was working, but it's still a hot, tough and extremely noisy job.  Miners are well paid, but they earn every penny!  After two hours, we were very happy to get back above ground.

Our motel in Mt Isa was the polar opposite of the B&B that I described in Puerto Varas, as far as the personal touch is concerned.  We checked in automatically, our phone number becoming the code to open our room and we never saw a human being while we were there.  But the room was immaculate, everything you could possibly need was provided (including a cooker that needed a degree course to figure out) and if there was a problem, a voice on the phone promised it would be solved - and it was.  A perfect example of the sort of place that treats you like a customer - but does it well.

Our last day in Mt Isa was very stormy, with some heavy rain and the roads were closed to both Brisbane and Townsville.  The Leichhardt River, which had been a trickle, rose rapidly and cut off all the causeway crossings in the town, leaving just one bridge to link the town and the mine.  But next morning, as we drove to the airport, we could see that everything was back to normal.  It may not have stayed like that for long though - in recent weeks, we've seen reports of serious floods, drought and bushfires all reported from different parts of the country on the same day.  Anyway, we flew out on schedule to return to Brisbane and track down more old friends.

First, we were headed for Bellbowrie, a beautiful area to the west of Brisbane, right on the river.  Our friend Jo Belfield, who was Liz's last teaching partner at Goroka International Primary School, welcomed us to her lovely house, set in five acres of land and teeming with friendly frogs, lounging lizards, bright birds - and spiders and snakes that we were happy not to encounter!  We haven't seen Jo since we left PNG in 1986, so it was great to catch up with all her news, though much of it has taken her and her family through tough times.  She took us on various trips, partly to enjoy the air-conditioning in the car (still 35C+ each day and unusually humid).  We visited the Lone Pine Koala sanctuary, where we declined to actually cuddle a koala (how many cuddles can a koala tolerate in one day?), but did stroke one, as well as a selecton of wallabies and kangaroos.  There were plenty of other Australian animals to admire, but our favourites were the platypuses (platypi?), in their splendid new air-conditioned home!

After three nights enjoying Jo's excellent hospitality, we caught a train into the city, which then took us north for an hour to Caboolture, the nearest stop for D'Aguilar, the home of Tom and Gina Weir and the scene of the Great Bougainville Reunion.  When I (Liz) went to PNG in 1973, I lived first at a United Church station in north-east Bougainville - Kekesu.  My job was to train teenage girls to run pre-schools in their villages.  Also at Kekesu were Gina, a Scottish volunteer, teaching in the primary school, Ondria, an Australian volunteer nurse, who was in charge of the small hospital and Leicester, an engineer volunteering from New Zealand, whose job  as Station Manager was to make sure that everything worked (including various workers), cocoa and copra were produced, machines were maintained, cows were milked and much more (an impossible task).  For the first year, we lived together at Kekesu, Leicester in one crumbling house and we three girls in another.  Many trials, tribulations, good, bad and hilarious times were shared and it was a life-changing time for all of us.  During that year, Gina became engaged to Tom, the Australian manager of a nearby copra and cocoa plantation, and at the end of the year they were married.  In 1974, Leicester and Ondria got engaged and mid-year they left, leaving Liz as the only expatriate at Kekesu.  The following year, Martin arrived in the area as Government Patrol Officer - and the rest is history!  This reunion is the first time that all of us have been together since Ondria and Leicester went home in 1974.  You can imagine what kind of conversation we had!  Memories were resurrected, shared, agreed, argued and laughed over.  Much water has flowed under many bridges, but we are all the same people, just a bit older and, of course, much wiser!  It was a very special time, so huge thanks to Gina and Tom for being such generous hosts, and to Ondria and Leicester for coming up from Victoria so that we could be together.

We were surprised how lush and varied the terrain in this part of Queensland is, and we went for a couple of drives to local points of interest that took us to oddly shaped mountains, a ginger factory, tasteful tourist shops and a National Park where the nice young man who we asked to take our photo said "Anything to get away from the snake!"  I thought he was joking, but then I saw the snake!  It wasn't big, but it was angry and no-one knew for sure whether it was dangerous or not.  Pictures were taken with a zoom lens, then a hasty retreat beaten.

I'm writing this on the plane to Perth.  Plenty of time as we were bumped off our direct flight and have had to travel via Melbourne, which takes a fair bit longer.  Nearly there though - and apparently on the ground it's still 35 degrees C.  With luck, we'll find it less humid in Western Australia ......

Mount Isa - mine site by day.

Mount Isa - mine site at dusk with a storm brewing ....

Koalas are so photogenic! These two are in the elderly retired section at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. We know how they feel!

... that's enough photos for today!

Mt Coot-tha with Jo Belfield - 287m above Brisbane.

Glasshouse Mountains - south-east Queensland.

Kookaburra - but not laughing - at the picnic site in Kondalilla National Park.

41 years on from Kekesu!!

Where's that Kookaburra? Venomous or not, this one was angry - so best left well alone .....