The lure of Chillagoe

Nobody knows where the Outback really starts. It’s just an arid, mostly uninhabited world out there, explained with a shrug of the shoulders and a wave of the arm. Obie Oberholzer went walkabout.



It takes 5 hours and 10 minutes (with a 2-hour time difference) to fly the massive distance from Perth to Cairns. Whenever I peer out of the window at a large chunk of the planet passing beneath us, it looks the same as it did the previous time. My brain is of average size and capabilities, yet it is teetering on the edge of the unexplained, or rather – some exotic disbelief. I am flying across one of the most ancient continents and, except for Antarctica, the driest and most inhospitable. Two oceans and four seas surround this enormous arid land. From previous visits I know that the country is stable and well governed and everyone seems to get on pretty well with one another. Oops – my mind goes momentarily blank when trying to recall the name of the present prime minister of Australia. To get anywhere fast on this island continent you have to fast-forward time and place.

A mining roadtrain rumbles past the pioneer cemetery in Almaden on the ‘Wheelbarrow Highway’ between Mareeba and Mungana in the Outback of northern Queensland.

The abandoned mining railway tracks lie at evening at Mungana Junction some 14 km north of the historic mining town of Chillagoe.

 

Melaleuca trees (or often called Paperbarks, Honey-myrtles or Tea-Trees) grow on the edge of Chillagoe Creek in the northen Queensland Outback.

Melaleuca trees (or often called Paperbarks, Honey-myrtles or Tea-Trees) grow on the edge of Chillagoe Creek in the northen Queensland Outback.

Limestone caves, passages and arches are found in the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park near the Queensland historic mining Outback town of Chillagoe.

 

One week later I am driving a Ute (bakkie) out of Port Douglas, heading west. Behind me is the second oldest rain forest on earth, and out at sea the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism seen from space. In the coastal waters, box jellyfish, blue ringed octopus and stonefish can kill you, and salty crocs just swallow you whole.

Bewildered and sweaty from the warm winter air, I head over the Great Dividing Range into the Outback. This endless hinterland of nothing much is home to some of the world’s most venomous snakes and thousands of the nastiest crawlies. Great. The Aussies love the word great. We have the Great Simpson Desert, the Great Inland Road and the Great Ocean Road and a great many more Greats. Nobody knows where the Outback really starts. It’s just an arid, mostly uninhabited world out there, explained with a shrug of the shoulders and a wave of the arm. My photographic aim is to venture forth into this deadly wilderness and find the historic mining town of Chillagoe. It’s really very simple; you just aim the Ute at a point on the horizon on a road that reads ‘The Wheelbarrow Way’. This highway starts in Mareeba and then gently makes its way over eucalyptus-clad hills towards northern Queensland.
Asphalt or ‘sealed’ (as the Aussies call it) at the start, it runs parallel to the narrow gauge Chillagoe Mining Company railway and later turns into a dust-filled gravel road. Mining road-trains thunder along here and when they pass I am momentarily rattled, shaken and disorientated, the air sucked out of my lungs and any previous thoughts dust-infused. This highway was named after the thousands of prospectors and pioneers that pushed their belongings in wheelbarrows to newly discovered excavations and promised fortunes. I photograph a sign that reads, ‘Bull dust holes, next 250km’.

It is later explained to me that normal potholes, under dry conditions and heavy road-trains, fill with fine powdery dust. These reach dangerous depths and are completely camouflaged from the unexpecting driver going at speed. Further on, I turn into the isolated Lappa Junction bar.

 

The front of an old vehicle hangs on the wall of the museum at Lappa Junction along the Wheelbarrow Highway in Queensland.

Read more about Obie’s travels in the September/October issue of DEKAT. 

By | 2017-10-20T12:51:45+00:00 October 20th, 2017|Fotografie, Kultuur, Reis|