The Ghost Town – Mary Kathleen

It is interesting that a ghost town can take on a life of its own even though there is nothing there. Mary Kathleen in the Cloncurry Mineral fields, in my opinion, is one of these. Grey Nomads have made it a camping area. The owner of the land allows this as long as there are no open fires lit. The old town site now only consists of concrete slabs and roadways. Apart from the nomads that camp it is home to a herd of cattle.image


Mary Kathleen is located in the Cloncurry Mineral Fields about 56km due east of Mount ISA on the Barkly/Flinders Highway. The turn off is on the left is partly sealed and slowly deteriorating. Even though the buildings of the township no longer stand, the roadways and concrete slabs of once existing buildings still remain. It was once a thriving community of 1000 people in what was considered a very tranquil picturesque area.

The discovery of ore was the result of some three months of intensive prospecting by a syndicate of eight ,headed by Messrs Clem Walton and Norm McConachy in 1954. It was by chance that the syndicate discovered the ore body. By pushing a theory that uranium was present uncertain rock formations close to Cloncurry several Of their expeditions led them to the Mary Kathleen area. During one of these expeditions at ruck broke down in a dry creek bed and while waiting for it to be repaired one of the syndicate members switched on his Geiger counter, which immediately gave higher than normal background readings.

In July 1954, two days after the discovery ,the leases were pegged out and the deposit named Mary Kathleen  in memory of Mr McConachy’s wife who had died a short time before the discovery.

In late 1983 the contract for uranium oxide was filled and it was decided to close the mine and disband the township due to the oversupply of uranium on the world market. Operations ceased in 1984 and the township auctioned off.


What is in a name?

In general, the early explorers where financed by governments, royalty and private benefactors. These explorers often felt that the names of places they found should bear the name of their benefactor of his wife. There are numerous examples a distill leave it to you to look the up. Suffice to say the the NSW / Queensland border town of Texas did not fit into this category.

The McDougall Brothers originally settled on the land where Texas Station is now situated around 1840. The property was abandoned during the1850’s when the brothers tried their luck on the goldfields.
On their return they found that the land had been taken by another settler and it was some time before they were able to establish their prior claim.
In 1836 Texas (America) was at war with Mexico,fighting for their independence. The McDougalls called their property Texas due to the similarity of the dispute.

There is a current link between the two cities. On 10 September 1988 the people of Texas USA planted and donated the Pecan Trees in the town park ( oddly named Pecan Park) as a sign of friendship and goodwill.

The Artesian Time Tunnel – Cunnamulla.

At the Cunnamulla Fell Centre there is a display that transports you back in time 100 million years. As well as the time dinosaurs roamed the earth, it was also the time that water became trapped in sedimentary rock layers, only surfacing through mound springs, the natural pressure relief valves of the artesian basin. The importance of this water source to the outback cannot be underestimated. The work of the Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee can be found at .

Here are some facts

  • the Great Artesian Basin covers an area as large as 1,711,000 square kilometres or approx 1/5 of the Australian continent
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  • The Artesian basin starts at the tip of Queensland and underlies parts of New South Wales, South Australia and Northern Territory
  • The age of the water is estimated to be 2 million years old and dates back to the ‘Ice Age’
  • The Aboriginal people have been utilising the Artesian water,through mound springs, for many years prior to European Settlement. Mound springs are places where the artesian aquifers naturally flow to the surface.
  • The first ever bore to be sunk was in1878 on ‘Kallara’ station (north west of Tilpa,NSW.
  • The first bore to be sunk in Queensland was 100km South East of Cunnamulla on a property by the name ‘Noorama’ in 1887.
  • The average temperature of the water from the Basin is 30 – 50 degree and a maximum of 100 degrees in some places.
  • In 1999 the Commonwealth and State Governments established what is called the Great Artesian Basin Sustainability Initiative – GABSI. This is a joint initiative between property owners and the government to conserve water through the capping of flowing bores and installation of piping to reduce the amount of water wastage and evaporation that occurs through the use of bore drains in properties.
  • To date GABSI has saved more than 18,538 Mega litres and has involved 306 properties
  • A DVD presentation explained the formation the Basin and it’s importance to the outback communities it serves. However it did leave unanswered questions about the effect of Coal Seam Gas drilling on the Great Artesian Basin. There is a lot of CSG mining in this area of Queensland and some communities are protesting loudly. It seems to me that mines are being developed where food should be produced. I am also not sure that drilling through the aquifers in the basin is not affecting the quality and amount do water available.
    I hope that further studies are done to ensure the safety of drinking water from the Basin .

    World War 11 site

    About 50km northwest from Mount Isa is a rest area that commemorates the building of a supply road to Camooweal. The rest area was donated to the community by the Kalkadoon people.

    The original road was built during WW11 as part of the inland defence road system in 1940. The war moved to the Pacific region and the defence of northern Australia became an urgent issue.
    The Queensland Main Roads Commission (now Queensland Department of Main Roads) was given the responsibility to build the road west from Mount Isa, to link up with the north-south road at Tennant Creek.

    Prior to 1940 the road west was a track which ran close to the telegraph line erected in 1897 and meandered from waterhole to waterhole. In 1941, work commenced on the road which was ten miles shorter than the track. However there we difficulties in building the road,with funds exhausted and chronic shortages of machinery and manpower.
    By the end of 1941 , Australian and American military traffic on the East-West Road increased with volumes of 1000 vehicles per day.
    Further funding was obtained from he Commonwealth Government and machinery borrowed from across Queensland. By virtually working around the clock, the roadways gravelled and bridges over Spear Creek and the Buckley , Georgina andRankin Rivers neared completion in October 1942.

    By late 1943 ,due to heavy traffic usage , the Mount Isa to Camooweal Road was bitumen sealed to a width of sixteen feet. The road,used unaltered for more than twenty years afterwards, represented a significant contribution to Australia’s wartime defence priorities and improving the lives of the people of northwest Queensland.

    The road had since been rebuilt, but the Main Roads department are committed to remaining this section of original road at thirst area.


    An Observation

    Travelling through the Outback gives us an opportunity to relax, observe, take part in activities and IMHO to learn about this land that we call home.

    I am sitting here, about 50km north west of Mount Isa, at a roadside stop commemorating the building of a highway between the Isa and Darwin during World War II. The road was built to enable supplies to move north.

    But I digress from the main purpose if this post. I think back on my history lessons many years ago, I can remember the names of Burke and Wills, Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson and Charles Sturt .
    But I cannot recall being taught about John McKinlay, who led a party in search of Burke and Wills, or William Landsborough who also led a search for Burke and Wills. Landsborough and bushman Nat Buchanan explored the areas around what is now Aramac and Barcaldine.
    No doubt there are many others that we do not learn about until we go travelling.
    My question then is why?

    I struggle to think of a reason . I find the history of this country fascinating and believe that more needs to be done to teach our children a full history.

    I would be interested in your thoughts.
    Please leave a comment.

    The Underground Hospital – Mount Isa

    Tuesday 13/08/2013

    Mount Isa rose out of the desert in north west Queensland in the 1920s. Today 90 years on it is a booming mining town. In 1942 however it was on a war footing.

    The Japanese had bombed Darwin in February, resulting in heavy casualties and it was feared that Mount Isa could be the nex target. With this in mind the Mount Isa Hospital Board decided that an underground hospital was needed to care for patients and handle casualties In the event of attack. The site chosen was the hill next to the existing hospital. And who was better qualified to build such an establishment an the miners from Mount Isa Mines? When the proposition was put by hospital medical superintendent Dr E J Ryan, there was no shortage of volunteers and the Mount Isa Mines management was quick to supply the necessary materials.

    A H shaped underground bunker was dug out of the solid rock over a sixteen week period.The underground hospital was completed quickly,with surgical, medical and maternity facilities, and even an outpatients department and operating theatres.
    Fortunately, it was nurses on night shift as well as being a storehouse for the above ground hospital.

    It fell into disuse and in e early1950s the entrances were covered win earth. This facility was completely forgotten until 1977 when workers ‘rediscovered’ the tunnels when looking for a reason for subsidence in the area.

    Not surprisingly the hospital was found to be in disrepair, with the roof partially collapsed in the main ward area, debris scattered throughout and wooden fittings white-ant eaten.

    In 1999 a restoration of the site was begun. Photographs of the original hospital were used to restore the facility as faithfully to the original as possible.

    Today it stands as a monument to the community spirit of the people of Mount Isa.

    Frozen in Time

    29 July 2013

    We have previously spent time in Winton to attend the Camel Races. This year as well as the Camel Cup we ventured a bit further afield and traveed the 110k to Lark Quarry Conservation Park. It is here that a moment in time around 95 million years ago stands frozen.
    It is here that scientists believe that a dinosaur stampede occurred. The photos we took do not do it justice, but this excerpt from the ABC series shows what we saw.

    In recent years there had been some argument about whether a stampede occurred or not. If you are interested have a read of this ABC news item.

    It really does not matter, one thing is certain ,there were a lot of dinosaurs in the area at that time.

    The (Little) White Bull

    Aramac 22/7/2013

    About 70 kilometres from Barcaldine is the small town of Aramac. Originally named Marathon, it was renamed Aramac, a corruption of R R Mac, the letters carved into a tree in the area by an early explorer and future Premier of Queensland Robert Ramsay McKenzie in the1850s. The tree was found by explorer William Landsborough in 1859 and he used the initials to name the creek on which the town lies.

    Many of you will remember the 1959 Tommy Steele song about ” The Little White Bull”

    but in early outback history a white bull was the undoing of cattle duffer Henry ‘ Harry’ Redford ( better known as Captain Starlight).
    In 1870 Redford had managed to steal over 1000 head of cattle from the property known as Bowen Downs ( 1.75 million acres and 70,000 head of cattle) . He hid these cattle in stockyard he built in outlying areas of the property.The cattle were all branded and, knowing that the brands would be easily recognised, could not be sold in Queensland. Redford decided to drive the mob down the Thompson, Barcoo and Cooper Rivers on route to Adelaide.
    Redford and his men walked the mob over some of the harshest and largely unexplored country in Australia without losing a single head. Only ten years earlier Burke and Wills had set out to cross the continent along the same track and died in the attempt.
    The mob included a distinctive white pedigree stud bull that had been imported from England.

    Aramac-white-bullThree months and 1,287 km (800 mi) later he exchanged two cows and a white bull for rations at Artracoona Native Well near Wallelderdine Station. Workers at Bowen Downs eventually discovered the yards, and the tracks heading south. A party of stockmen and Aboriginal trackers set out on the trail, many weeks behind Readford. They eventually reached Artracoona where they recognized the white bull.
    Redford was apprehended in Sydney in 1872, and faced trial in Roma, Queensland. However, the jury members were so impressed by his achievements that they found him not guilty, whereupon the judge is said to have remarked, “Thank God, gentlemen, that verdict is yours and not mine!” In response to the verdict, the Government shut down the Roma District Court for eight months.

    An interesting piece of Australian history , that is re enacted around Aramac each year as the Harry Redford Cattle Drive.

    Travelling and Fossicking – 2

    From Injune it is only a short distance to Springsure. Just outside the town is a feature named Virgin Rock. There is an overnight stop in the shadows of the rock and we decided to spend the night.

    The feature was named due to its resemblance to the Virgin Mary and child.Time has eroded the rock and the feature is not easily identified.



    The feature is lit up at night.



    I am sure that at some stage the image was more clear, but I am not so sure.


    From Opal to Small Town Relaxation

    24th May – 10th June 2013

    Looking at a map, Lightning Ridge is only a short distance from the Queensland border.  The small town of Hebel on the border consists of a general store and a small caravan park.  It truly is one of those places that you blink and it is gone.

    The next town of any significance is St George on the banks of the Balonne River. After filling up with fuel we had a walk around town. It was Saturday afternoon and everything was closed.  The one thing I remember more than anything else was the office of Senator Barnaby Joyce. It was an impressive well kept timber Queenslander building.

    As it had rained earlier in the week we were unsure whether we would be able to camp by the river about ten kilometres outside town. The road to Beardmore dam was sealed and luckily the entrance to the free camp was dry. It is a nice spot to camp and the neighbours were friendly.

    We decided that we would stop here overnight and then move on to Surat where there was a highly recommended free camp.

    surat-campThe town of Surat was a Changing station for Cobb and Co in the late 1800s. The town has established a very interesting museum in the old changing post. When viewing a model of the stage coach we noticed the way the horses were hitched to the coach. This was completely different to how the old western movies showed horses hitched to a stage coachsurat-Coob-and-Co

    Just out of town on the other side of the river is the Surat Fisherman’s park. For a donation RVs are permitted to camp on the banks of the river. The local angling club uses the donations to restock the river with perch and cod.  They also provide a dump point, water and toilet facilities.   A fantastic place to spend a few days.

    A few days later we moved camp to the even smaller town of Meandarra. We had a choice of here, the caravan park for $5 a  night or the “free” camp (  with power) on the creek for $5 for the first 3 nights and then the same price as the caravan park.  We found the caravan park first and ended up staying for ten nights.

    If you talk to the locals they would have you believe that the town got is name from a person when asked who lives here answers with ” Me and Darra” There is a statue in town of a man and his dog Me and Darra


    Of more note is the Anzac Memorial Museum. This museum was opened in 2009 celebrating 150 years of Queensland and 100 years of Meandarra. The building is built around a full sized Canberra bomber and consists if various vehicles used by the three defence services. There are collections of medals  and a moving tribute to the Rats of Tobruk.

    In our time there we unhitched Terri and took a drive to the town of Miles. The area around here is being mined for Coal Seam Gas as witnessed by the number of mining vehicle around the area.

    In Miles there is an historic village. The local historical society have built a street scene and within the buildings there are displays of artefacts of the period. Of  interest to me was the hospital display.



    When I was young I spent some time at Fairfield Hospital. It was here that I first saw people in Iron Lungs to assist them to breath. In the display was an Iron Lung.





    In our drive  through Queensland we had been noticing a lot of cactus, or Prickly Pear as we found out.  There was a display at the village detailing the history of the eradication of this plant. Firstly they killed the plant with arsenic solutions. Although this worked it was not a very safe solution. The solution was found by importing an insect from South America. This insect was the correct solution. At least this worked better than the imported Cane Toad.

    Just as an aside and totally politically incorrect was this poster purporting to be the Irish Guide to Medical Terms and their meaning.