For the last day we’ve been driving through the Outback. Although our drive up north was entirely along the coast, we wanted to see some of the inland of Australia as well, so we opted to turn inwards from Mackay, and drive down for a few hundred kilometers through the inland areas.
Pretty soon we realised that it was going to be very, very boring. Or at least, the scenery was, as it was mostly just dry lands with thousands of eucalyptus trees clinging onto life. After 300 kilometres we stopped for lunch in a town called Moranbah, which was is at the centre of the open cast mining area of Australia. Mmmm, nice landscapes! Anyway, its major claim to fame was yet another big – The Big Bucket – which they’d put outside of town for all to see as you approached. It may not look so big on the picture, but look out for Emily standing in front of it. So there you go, just one highlight of our drive inland – and more of the strange ‘Big’ phenomenon here in Oz.
Further driving simply reinforced the loneliness of the outback. The drives between towns were up to 80 miles, and often the ‘towns’ were no more than half a dozen houses, a petrol station, a chip shop (or Chippo as the Aussies call them) and a newsagent. And every 20 or so miles we’d pass a house alongside the road, or a dusty orange road heading towards a house in the distance. All of the houses have windmills to draw water out of their boreholes, but we know that they’re rapidly running out of water after 2 years of drought.
We also saw quite a bit of wildlife, including plenty of kangaroos in the late afternoons, eating the roadside grass (beyond the fences there’s no grass at all, as the cows have grazed the land down to nothing), and then a real treat when we saw 4 emu’s running alongside and then across the road.
At one point we came across some cattle drovers who’d come from further west, where it was even drier. They’d basically led their cattle for 4 months towards the east, where a small amount of rain had fallen. They were following marked stock routes, and using the verges to keep their cattle alive. To us they looked incredibly thin, but apparently they are a lot healthier now that when they set out. There were 4 drovers looking after 1,300 cattle. In Oz they’re not called cowboys, but Jackaroos and Jillaroos. They had a very fatalistic view of life – when we asked when they’d be going back with the cattle, their answer was “When it rains.”
We finished our drive in Emerald, a town which was obviously the hub of its local area (it was the largest town in a 1,500 square mile area). We spent the evening at the RSL club in town (all towns seems to have a Retired Servicemens League club, which seems to exist mainly to have somewhere to put Pokies – one-armed bandits) watching the England versus Wales game on the big screen.