Sunday Night, Winton


Well, it was an interesting day today.  I got on the road by 9 or so, after stopping at the supermarket to get drinking water, in Blackall.  The sulfated water there made me want to have some good drinking water with me, just in case.  As it turns out, Winton’s water doesn’t seem to have that rotten egg smell, so I’ll just keep the water until I might need it.


I was surprised again today how green everything was, and how treed.  I took some pictures at various points, and I hope to get them up eventually.  The driving was easy, 110 kph (66 mph) speed limit, and not a lot of traffic.  Once I hit Barcaldine, the traffic picked up, but it was still negligible.  More road trains today.  I tried to get a picture of one, several times, but I don’t know if I succeeded in showing how big they are.  160 feet of truck, with three large trailers, is a very long truck, and they are also tall and wide.  They only stack the cattle two layers high, but that is still a big trailer.


Lots of Black Kites along the way, feeding off the road kill – kangaroos and wallabies, mostly.  I had one medium sized hopper run across in front of me today, and that was at 11 in the morning, when they are supposed to be sleeping.  There is no way I would drive at night on these roads, based on the numbers of road kill I see.  I think I got some pictures of Black Kites, and maybe one or more will be posted eventually.  There certainly were a lot of them.


I had lunch in Longreach.  Longreach has a couple of claims to fame.  Qantas Airlines started there – Qantas stands for something like Queensland and Northern Territories Airline System.  It was an outback airline, back in the 20’s or 30’s.  In Longreach, there is a 747 parked by the road, and they give tours.  There were 20 or 30 people in a group under the aircraft as I went by.  I passed.  In Longreach, they also have the Stockman’s Hall of Fame.  That is Australia’s national cowboy museum.  It really ties in with my love of Australian country music, but I just don’t do museums, so I passed on that, too.  I’m sure I am the poorer for it, but that is me.


I got gas (petrol, to the Aussies) at a gas station on the highway in Longreach, and I asked about whether there was a “downtown” area.  The answer was yes, but everything would be closed, since it was Sunday.  I went there anyway, and not everything was closed.  I had lunch (a pie and a sausage roll) in a café on the main drag, then continued on toward Winton, my destination for tonight.


As I approached Winton, it kept getting drier and drier.  Less green.  I took pictures, to be shown eventually.  I passed one road, going off south, which had a nice, newish sign, showing the names of all the stations (ranches) along the road.  It was a dirt road, of course, and there were about 15 or 20 stations listed, with the kilometers to each one.  The last one on the list was 108 kilometers down this dirt road.  That is about 65 miles, folks.  65 miles down a dirt road, just to get to the paved road, and then 45 minutes or an hour to the first town.  What is that, 2 ˝ hours to get to the store, to pick up a quart of milk?  A five hour round trip to the nearest town?  Incredible.  What do the kids do for school?  I know that in some remote places here, they do school by internet and TV these days.  In the older days, they used radio to school the kids.  Before that, they home-schooled them, I guess.  I am sure those stations had been there for at least 100 years.  Can you imagine life there before cars, before electricity?  Amazing.  And, the land looked like desert to me.  They raise sheep and cattle on it, but it looked like desert to me.


Anyway, I rolled into Winton about 2 o’clock or so, or a little earlier.  It was about 95 degrees outside, according to my car thermometer, which seems accurate.  I saw my motel, which is a modular construction thing, but they do offer free wireless access.  But, I hadn’t seen a new trip bird yet today, and I didn’t want to get skunked today, so I stopped at the visitor information place to ask directions to the Winton Sewage Works.  I had heard that there were some birds there.  I got the directions and found it easily enough.  There were five ponds, as it turned out, with birds in the area.  The trouble was, there was a locked gate and a sign that said Authorized Access Only.


If I were younger and fitter, I could have easily climbed over the fence by the gate, but I am old and fat, so I wandered down the fence, trying to see if I could see anything from outside the fence.  As it turned out, the fence was kind of hanging low in a palce, and I was able to step over it without snagging myself on the barbed wire, so I was in.  I scouted out the ponds, but never could see anything new.  One bird was interesting, but I decided eventually it was only a juvenile Black-fronted Dotteral, a species I had seen at Bowra.  I finally gave up, and started back to my motel.


On the way, I passed the Winton Golf Course.  You have to see my picture of the Winton Golf Course.  There was a tiny amount of grass, but I don’t think it was where you actually played golf.  The “greens” were black in color, some kind of sand, I imagine.  Anyway, I saw some birds out there that looked interesting, so I went out in the sun again, with my scope, and I eventually decided they were Richard’s Pipits, a fairly common bird, but one I had not yet counted on this trip.  So, I didn’t get shut out today, although I am not 100% that they were actually Richard’s Pipits.  I can’t think of anything else they could be, though, and I am about 90% sure, and that is good enough to count.


By that time, I was really overheated, since it was about 95 degrees out there.  I went to my motel and got checked in and moved in.  It was about 90 in my room when I moved in, and I was warned not to turn the A/C to “high”, as it would just freeze up and not work at all.  I was told it would cool down soon.  Sure.  Soon?  Soon, compared to what?  The coming of the next Ice Age?


After getting everything moved in, I took a “cold” shower, which wasn’t very cold, but at least the water was less than body temperature.  I slowly cooled down, as did the room.  Now, four hours later, I am comfortable and the room is down to 76 degrees.  It has just slowly, slowly cooled down over that 4 hours.


The room has both a little refrigerator and a microwave oven, as well as a plate and cutlery, so I went to the local grocery store and got food, enough to last me for a couple of days, if necessary, without having to go out for it.  The store was open on a Sunday, too, until 7 PM.  Impressive.  Some frozen chicken and vegetable pies (they seem to be cooked already, as there are directions for preparing them with a microwave), some ham, some cheese, and some butter.  I have some cookie things for dessert, and I have beer and Diet Coke, so what more do I need?  I also have some of my Duty Free Bundy Rum left, and some orange-mango juice, so I am set. 


Now that I am here, though, at my farthest west point in my plans, I am not feeling very enchanted with the place.  It is really remote, extremely dry and brown, very hot, and not likely to produce much in the way of birdlife.  My plan was to visit Bladensburg National Park, but I don’t know.  It is very remote, very hot, and very dry.  I might very well not see any new birds at all there, given what a duff Aussie birder I am, and how reluctant I am to go crashing through the bush.  Do I really want to go there, after all?


I am considering my options tonight.  I could bail out of here tomorrow morning, and head toward the coast, my next destination.  I could do it in the planned two days, arriving in Townsville a day early, or I could take three days, instead of the planned two.  Or, I could actually spend a couple of hours in Bladensburg National Park tomorrow morning, and still head out of here to my next stop in the afternoon, a day early.  Several options, in other words.  I am thinking about them tonight, and will make a decision in the morning.  Lots of factors to consider.  My original plan was to spend two nights here in Winton, then take two days to get to Townsville.  I may still do that, but that would mean spending a whole day tomorrow seeing Bladensburg, and I don’t know if I want to spend that much time out in the heat.


To add to my list of things to consider, when I went out to the grocery store a while ago, I ran over a bottle, here in town, and now I am worrying about a flat tire.  Getting a flat in a remote place like Bladensburg would be a real bummer, since I am not even supposed to be taking my rental car onto unsealed roads.  (Bladensburg would definitely involve unsealed roads)  A flat there would be much bigger problem than a flat on a paved road with some traffic, no matter how little.  Just one more thing for me to worry about.  The tires will probably be just fine, but I confess to being a worrier.  I can just picture a piece of glass working itself deeper and deeper into one of my tires, until the air is all let out.


As far as birds are concerned, I think that heading toward the coast is actually more likely to increase my count than visiting Bladensburg.  I could theoretically see half a dozen species in Bladensburg that I won’t see elsewhere, but my realistic chances are more like one or two species, I think.  More time in the Townsville area, or even along the way there would give me a better chance at a higher count, although I then would never see the Bladensburg possibilities.


On the other hand, it would certainly be embarrassing to bail out now, just because of the heat and the remoteness.  That was part of the point of visiting the outback, after all.  What am I, a man or a mouse?  Flat tire?  My rental car must have a spare, and I have changed tires before.  Too hot for me?  What, am I going to melt away? 


So, I will think about it tonight, and sleep on it, and in the morning I will do something.  I think I will post this Ramblings tonight, though, and so if you are checking things every day, you can wonder along with me, until I post the next one, telling you what I decided.  Heck, with the time difference, if you read this by noon on Sunday, you can send me an email with your advice and comments, before I am even up in the morning.  Here is your chance to participate in my trip actively, if you are on the ball and are reading my stuff every morning.  All opinions solicited.  What should I do?


So, that is my story for tonight, Sunday night over here, and very early Sunday morning over there on the west coast of the USA.


Barry Downunder, now in the “real” outback, and not especially liking it, at the moment