Travelling Australia - Journal 2013
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5 August 2013

Winton to Barcoo River
We packed up and connected without delay on a bright, sunny, and cool morning before leaving Winton bound initially for Longreach then Barcaldine and Blackall. The Landsborough Highway between Winton and Longreach is in reasonable condition for most of the way; running in long, flat, and nearly straight sections across the Mitchell Grass Plains with visibility of many kilometres to the horizon. The paddocks were dry; there were some cattle grazing but we don't know if they were getting any benefit from their eating.

In the excellent visibility over the low tussock-grass we saw nearly 20 emus, mostly in ones and twos. We were fortunate that only one emu looked ready to run into the side of the Pathfinder before turning away. A handful of kangaroos were also out and about although these are supposed to rest on sunny days; maybe the low temperature (22°C at 10 o'clock) made them restless.

After hundreds or thousands of kilometres driving past cattle we encountered at least three properties grazing sheep between Winton and Longreach . Although this country was once devoted heavily to sheep most properties have changed to cattle because they require less labour (workers are very hard to find and keep), the price of wool is not attractive, and wild dogs kill too many sheep.

The amount of road-kill along this highway was remarkable; we could identify kangaroos (many looking as if they were less than 12 hours dead), pigs, emus, birds and one sheep. For most of the time we could see at least five carcasses on the bitumen ahead of us or on the grass verges. There were so many carcasses that the birds could pick and choose; they concentrated on a handful of carcasses leaving the rest untouched.

About 30 kilometres before Longreach the Mitchell Plains ended and the road ran through scrubby vegetation in more broken terrain with low hills and curves. This ended at the Thompson River near the edge of Longreach. We passed through Longreach without stopping and continued on the Landsborough Highway towards Barcaldine, driving over grassy plains on low hills.

The road between Longreach and Barcaldine is being extensively rebuilt in sections. The first stage is to build detours beside the existing road and divert traffic onto the detours. Then the original road is ripped up and a new one built. The completed sections are pleasant to drive on; only time will tell how well the roads stand up to heavy traffic.

Traffic in the opposite direction between Winton and Barcaldine was light to medium in volume with caravans as the largest category; the next most numerical category was heavy transports (mostly road trains) with a significant number of empty cattle transports going to collect cattle to take south to feed lots since there is insufficient feed left around this part of Queensland.

In Barcaldine we joined the caravans parked while occupants went to the bakery, the supermarket, or the information centre. There were not nearly as many caravans as we have seen on previous occasions in Barcaldine and we had no difficulty finding somewhere to park before going to the bakery for lunch.

We left Barcaldine on the road to Blackall, still called the Landsborough Highway but a much different road. The terrain was nearly flat but the grassland had been left behind and we were passing through low trees and shrubs. This road was of fair quality and adequate width and carried much less traffic than the road on the other side of Barcaldine. Traffic remained light with empty stock road trains as the most numerous vehicle type; judging by the number we saw there are thousands of head of cattle yet to be moved south. We passed one road train loaded with hay, presumably to be fed to cattle, but it was only one load.

On the Barcaldine to Blackall road we passed two herds of cattle being walked south. The sight of cattle walking along main roads is not unusual but on all previous occasions we have passed cattle they have been wandering along, apparently at their own pace, and pausing frequently for a mouthful of grass. But both of these herds (several hundred head in each) were being pushed along without the opportunity to browse; the second (larger) herd was raising a large cloud of dust as it hurried along.

The day remained bright and sunny with not a cloud in the sky, but the temperature at 2 o'clock was only 27°C. Passing through Blackall the road continued much as before with sections either being replaced or with preliminary work already in progress in the form of detours under construction. There is clearly a large amount of money being spent on outback Queensland roads which have for years been low standard, much worse than roads in most other states. But the real test will be in seeing how long these roads remain good under the pressure of daily traffic which will soon expose inadequate foundations or weak construction.

We turned off the road into the Barcoo River rest area which has no facilities so only attracts caravans fully equipped for free-camping. The area was nearly empty so we stopped to one side and prepared for the night.

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