While we were in Winton during July, Bob Whittaker suggested a visit to the Combo Waterhole near Kynuna. We didn’t have time that afternoon but made sure to include it for this trip. Hence our journey from Cloncurry to Richmond was via there rather than direct, making it close to 500 km rather than about 300 km.
We were awake early and ready to move by about 7:30 am. As I walked around the front of the van after checking everything was in order I noticed a large grasshopper on top of the rear vision mirror and pointed it out to Majella who was ready to drive off.
As we were about to join the highway just out of town a road train with three trailers full of cattle came off the bypass in front of us. That slowed our progress for the next thirty minutes because it headed down the road toward Winton in front of us and it was some time before Majella had a long enough stretch of road to get past. At first it was going slower than we would have preferred but it did eventually get up to a decent speed and we were not pressed for time.
About 30 minutes into our journey I noticed that the grasshopper was still holding on at 90 kph. That was worth a photo which I got just in time. When I looked again a few minutes later our hitchhiker was gone.
The countryside just out of Cloncurry was hilly, with rocky outcrops. Related curves in the road accounted for some of Majella’s difficulty in finding a suitable place to pass the road train. There were trees and plentiful, though dry, grass. Some way on the country flattened out and there were fewer trees, in some places none for a long distance either side. There were some areas with grass that looked suitable for grazing but others looked like bare earth that could support no life. It was not obvious whether the difference resulted from soil types or management but it was stark. The areas either side of the road typically had grass and in places it was green, perhaps an effect of microclimate created by the road. There were a few patches of green in some otherwise dry paddocks. The few cattle we saw in those areas appeared to be struggling to find feed.
First stop was at McKinlay. It’s a tiny hamlet but it boasts Crocodile Dundee’s Walkabout Creek Hotel. Despite that movie being set in the Northern Territory the pub scenes actually used the pub at McKinlay which has traded on that reputation since. We felt compelled to stop and would have gone in but it was not quite 9:00 am and there was a sign advertising opening hours from 11:00 am. We took our photographs and drove on.
It was 9:45 am when we arrived at Kynuna. The door of the Blue Heeler Hotel was open and we went in, thinking we would have coffee. There was nobody in the bar. A sign suggested ringing the bell loudly if the bar was unattended but there was no bell to be found. We looked for a bit and decided to drive on to Combo Waterhole and return to Kynuna for lunch.
To our surprise the road in to Combo Waterhole from the highway was sealed and in good condition. There was nobody else at the picnic area when we arrived so we parked in the one small piece of shade and checked the noticeboard to discover that there was a 2.6 km return walk to the presumed site of the swaggie’s demise. We had coffee and cake in the van before covering up for the sun and setting out for the walk.
As we left the picnic area we saw a couple of cars arrive and assumed we would see other walkers on the track as we returned but by the time we returned they had disappeared. We thought it strange that people would come so far and miss the main feature.
The sun was hot and we were glad of the occasional patch of shade as we walked the track to the Combo Waterhole where the legendary swaggy met his fate. Majella sang a few verses of Waltzing Matilda to add to the ghostly murmurings. The walk out and back took us a little over an hour.
It was interesting to see that the waterholes in the channels of the Diamantina River had been augmented by damming with stones. According to the noticeboard that had added a metre or more to the depth and vastly improved the likelihood of there being water available all year round. There was also explanation of the different Mitchell grasses and the conserved area adjacent to the waterholes had substantial amounts of grass, dry but suitable for grazing. That was most unlike some of the areas we had driven past on the way from Cloncurry which were essentially bare of all visible growth.
Majella drove back to Kynuna where we had lunch, Blue Heeler Burgers, at the famous pub. There was a small crowd in the bar and it grew a little while we were there. Our burgers were good but larger than we needed for lunch.
We had another pleasant surprise with the road to Julia Creek. We had been prepared for some or all gravel but it was sealed all the way, though narrow in places. The country through that section was also flat with some sections that seemed well covered and others that had clearly suffered in the drought.
I drove the final 90 mins from Julia Creek to Richmond. The same flat dry countryside prevailed with some sections seeming well grassed and others almost bare. There seemed to be more trees across most of that section.
We arrived in Richmond a little before 4:00 pm, filled up with fuel ready for tomorrow, and checked in at our campsite. The temperature was still around 37ºC with a couple of hours of sunshine left. I did some laundry which we were able to get dry by 6:00 pm when we went for a walk around the nearby Lake Fred Tritton. It was constructed in 2003 and filled by pumping from the nearby Flinders River. It is used for fishing, boating and swimming depending on the levels of blue green algae which can become problematic. As we walked we could see that the water level appeared not to have dropped bellow its highest level and wondered about the source of water for topping up through the year. There was some inflow from a water playground provided for public use, a sensible dual use of water.
We walked the full 1.2 km around the lake, enjoying the sunset, before returning to the van and dinner of tomato soup with toast followed by more of the ice cream we bought yesterday.