DESTINATION: NORMANTON TO CLONCURRY
Tony and Denyse explore Queensland’s historic gulf hinterland, travelling between Normanton and Cloncurry.
· The are many attractions in Normanton and Cloncurry
· Pioneer history of both towns
· Waterbirds on the wetlands near Normanton
· Birdlife on the drive to Cloncurry
· Gold still to be found in Cloncurry
Many travellers spend only a short time in Normanton but we wanted to explore, so we pre-booked a site at the Gulfland Motel and Caravan Park. It’s a three-star park with concrete slabs, power and water, and a swimming pool. We were told it was the quietest van park in town, which is just what we wanted. There was a big parade for the annual rodeo on the night we were there and there were lots of people in town, but we found the park very quiet.
Chris Knol at the tourist information centre was very helpful, providing us with maps and information on the surrounding area. We went out exploring the free camping sites along the Norman River (black soil, beware) and looking for big crocs. We spotted two before returning to the fishing bridge, old wharf and some of the wetlands where we saw many large waterbirds.
Chris was keen for us to see camp 119 – the historic last camp of explorers Burke and Wills – and as our car and van were still hooked up, he offered to drive us out there. This is a very poignant historic site, only 30km from town (25km of which is now sealed) but the last section is black soil so it’s impassable after any rain. From there, we drove a couple of clicks further to the Little Bynoe River, which blocked the Burke and Wills expedition.
After returning to town and settling in to the Gulfland van park, we explored the town further, checking out the original town well and kerosene streetlamp, the historic Burns Philp building, built in 1880, the shire offices (1890), the famous Purple Pub, and several other old buildings. The well-known Gulflander rail motor was due in at 1.30pm so we made sure we were at the railway station to meet it. This train does regular trips to Croydon and we also saw it when we were there. Put the railway station and train on your must-see list.
There are many interesting things to do and see in Normanton, including catching big barra, so plan to stay a couple of days and see Chris at the tourist information centre. Normanton’s food stores have improved over the years but be prepared to pay ‘outback’ prices.
It’s 194km from Normanton to the Burke and Wills roadhouse and this is the only fuel stop along the way. From there to Cloncurry is a further 180km. The road from Normanton has several single-lane bitumen patches, but from the roadhouse south it is all double lanes. We stopped for smoko at the Bang Bang rest area (112km south of Normanton), which has toilets, water and a dump point.
While driving in this area, be mindful of wedge-tailed eagles on the road, feasting on road kill. We also saw several pigs and piglets running across the road.
About 80km from Normanton, we were reminded about the importance of carrying a two-way UHF radio when we were the first on the scene of a motorbike accident in which the rider was badly hurt. We were out of mobile phone range and no one was on channel 18 or 40 on the radio. While Denyse (a doctor) looked after the rider, I was able to contact a homestead on duplex channel 6 on our car UHF, who was able to call the police and ambulance.
Taking out the new Uniden handheld 5W we had recently reviewed for Caravan World, I could continue to speak to the homestead owner while directing traffic past the accident and patient. This worked much better than trying to use the radio in the vehicle.
Due to the delay with the accident, we decided to camp at the free Terry Smith Lookout, which is 76km north of Cloncurry. It is a good overnight stop with toilets, water, shelter shed, dump point, a barbecue and a pleasant view across to the distant ranges.
The rusty red rocky outcrops so typical of this area began to appear on the approach to Cloncurry. We arrived in time to shop before settling into the Cloncurry Caravan Park Oasis.
There are two supermarkets, a discount fuel outlet, a large hardware store and good services for a town of about 3600 people. Cloncurry, which is at the crossroads of the Flinders and Barkly highways and the Burke Development Road/Landsborough Highway, is steeped in history going back to 1867 when copper and gold were discovered. The main industries these days are mining, beef cattle and tourism. Large cattle trucks and road trains pass through Cloncurry day and night.
Your first stop should be at the visitor information centre where you can pick up brochures and street directories, showing places of interest from the manager Gail Wipaki – a friendly local and a mine of information.
Having stopped in Cloncurry several times before, we knew what to expect but it was good to see the normally-dry riverbed flowing after recent heavy rain. Chinaman Creek Dam is only 3km from town and is very scenic. On the way, stop at the Rotary lookout for a great view over the town. You’ll get a great view of the sunset at Sunset Rock on the corner of Roundoak Road and the highway.
While you are at the visitors’ centre, you should take time out to check the Mary Kathleen Memorial Park complex and take the short walk to the old mine lookout. Denyse and I visited the actual Mary Kathleen uranium mine on one of our early trips when it was still operational, but the buildings have now all been moved, although the mine, streets and slabs are still there.
The Chinese cemetery gives an insight into the past, as does the historic Afghan cemetery, where graves face Mecca. Cloncurry was also involved with the early days of Qantas and the original hangar is still used.
John Flynn commenced the first Flying Doctor Service from Cloncurry in May 1928, so a visit to the John Flynn Museum and Art Gallery is very interesting. The foresight of this wonderful man has made it much safer to live in the outback.
History buffs will find several old buildings in town while there are a number of scenic tourist drives through the old gold mining areas for those with 4WDs. There is still a lot of gold to be found around Cloncurry and we heard that a large nugget was found near town quite recently. There are garnets and amethysts to be found here as well. But be sure to collect mud maps and property owners’ contact details at the visitors’ centre before you head out with your detector.
CLONCURRY CARAVAN PARK OASIS
Travellers had often told us about this park, commenting on the grassy sites and friendly owners. The park owners and managers live on-site and all are easy going and helpful. One pleasant feature of the park is the bare minimum of signs, and there is no long list of dos and don’ts handed to you on arrival.
There are about 100 sites and most have shade. Most are drive-through, some are single and others double. There is room to put your awning out and most sites have green grass underfoot. The park is a haven for birds, including the Cloncurry parrot.
Roads in the park are sealed and there is a very impressive new camp kitchen and TV room. A swimming pool is also available. The two amenities blocks had recently been painted and had keypad locks and there is a dump point as well. Pets are welcome.
The park is the closest one to town, within walking distance. A happy hour and sausage sizzle is held for guests twice a week through the tourist months.
We had four TV channels on analogue and four ABC channels on digital. We also had good reception on our Telstra NextG mobile phone and wireless broadband.
Cloncurry is a great place for a break, to re-stock and to visit some interesting places. Cloncurry Caravan Park Oasis was an ideal, quiet and friendly base to return after a day out exploring.
Normanton Information Centre. Phone (07) 4745 1065; email firstname.lastname@example.org
Gulfland Motel and Caravan Park. Phone (07) 4745 1290; email email@example.com
Cloncurry Visitor Information Centre. Phone/fax (07) 4742 1361; email firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published in Caravan World #508, November 2011.