Travelling Australia - Journal 2013
13-16 July 2013

Our time in Normanton was very relaxed; we had done the tourist "things" on a previous visit and could pick and choose what we wanted to do on this visit.

Weather remained warm in general; nights were warm at first then cooling down after midnight to be about 21°C by 4 o'clock in the morning. By sunrise a cool breeze had come up and the mornings were generally pleasant with temperature reaching 28 or 29°C by noon and the cool breeze continuing. The sun shone brightly.

Afternoons were warmer, temperatures of 34°C were usual and the cool breeze often faded (but did not completely disappear). Careful management of windows and shades was needed in the afternoon to stay comfortable.

Mutton Hole Wetland and Birds
North-west Queensland had experienced relatively low rainfall during the recent Wet Season and this was obvious in visits to the Mutton Hole Wetlands near Normanton. Although the main waterhole held sufficient water for birds and aquatic plants the smaller surrounding pools were completely dry or would be in a few days; birds which previously foraged in them for food had gone. The land around the waterhole was dry and turning to dust under car tyres. The area looked even more barren because the grass drying out had been an opportunity for a dry season burn to remove much of the too long grass; four-wheel driving over the burnt stubble was easy because a driver could now leave the track and still see what was in front of the wheels. Getting rid of much of the too-long grass (a metre high in some cases) before it could be caught up in a dangerous and destructive later dry season burn was a good move.

Many of the shallow waterholes around Mutton Hole had been the haunt of numerous Brolgas and Saurus Cranes and they had not left the Normanton region. On two days we drove to Karumba and saw numerous brolgas from the road. They were usually in pairs, often with pairs forming a sort of collective of eight or ten birds. Once we saw an assemblage of more than thirty brolgas (we lost count at thirty). Mutton Hole drying didn't reduce the number of brolgas around Normanton but it did redistribute them and we assume the same thing happened for other species.

Overall, there didn't seem to be any noticeable reduction in the variety of bird-life around Normanton. I could still sit outside the caravan and watch a Forest Kingfisher in a nearby tree looking for, and finding, something to eat; and the cryptic little Peaceful Parrots moved silently and unobtrusively between caravan sites in their endless search for seeds to eat.

brolga pair Pair of brolgas on a river floodplain near the Mutton Hole wetlands.

We drove to Karumba and Karumba Point on a couple of days. The 72 kilometres road (all bitumen) runs through woodland for much of the way but the last 30 or 35 kilometres is across open, coastal, dead flat, grassland plains. We passed quite a few herds of cattle on the way and we noticed that the many waterholes were full of water; creeks flowing under road also held a surprising amount of water. We surmised this area is either being used for holding cattle being prepared for transport by road trains (we passed one full of cattle leaving the area) or there is enough feed to sustain cattle through the dry season. We suspect the first option is correct.

Karumba and Karumba Point are primarily amateur fishing and caravanner destinations and caravans are prominent on the only road to Karumba. At Karumba Point we passed a new caravan park, a very unusual feature in Australia, this one had 32 sites but was already full with a waiting list.

Karumba is also the terminal for a pipeline carrying lead and zinc ore in slurry from a Century mine near Lawn Hill. The slurry is de-watered at Karumba and loaded into a self-powered barge then taken out into the Gulf and transhipped to an ocean-going ore-carrier. This process avoids the substantial cost and difficulties of a deep-water port at Karumba.