Saturday, August 02, 2014

Driving East from Central Australia to Mount Isa

Underground Hospital at Mt Isa
After a late departure we headed north along the Stuart Highway towards Tennant Creek which is 500 km from The Alice. Named after explorer, John McDowell Stuart, the highway runs south to Adelaide, South Australia and north to what we call The Top End of the Territory … Darwin.

It was on the Stuart Highway outside Barrow Creek that my brother was born on 13 December 1961. It was a hot and uncomfortable summer event for my mother and the midwife assisting and led to my brother’s name, Kendall Stuart; Kendall after the midwife and Stuart after the highway near which he was born. Unfortunately, my brother died in 1976 and never got to revisit his birthplace. Every time I drive past Barrow Creek, I think of my mother and Kendall as I did on this occasion.

We hadn’t intended to travel as far as Tennant Creek, but wanted to free camp overnight at the Devil’s Marbles. But, times change and now while camping is allowed, caravan parking overnight isn’t allowed. On we drove to a nicely presented road-side stop at Bonney Well where we stayed overnight before heading to Tennant Creek to the north and then branching east towards Mount Isa on day two.

The trip across the Barkly Highway is long and tedious, but we cruised along at 90 km/hr seeing dozens of other caravaners heading in both directions. At this time of year, many people from southern states head north to warmer climates.

Near Camooweal, about 180 km from Mount Isa, we stopped at the edge of the Georgina River where there were large numbers of birds including brolgas, living in proximity to a few pools of water left over from the last rain. The next morning, we drove the final leg to the Silver City, Mount Isa. As we had lived at Mount Isa for four years from July, 1984, it’s a little like coming home when we visit.

We stayed for two nights giving us time to visit some friends, have dinner at the local Irish Club, and check out some of the changes eg, the underground hospital, is now open to the public (see photos).

Towards the entrance door
When I visited Mount Isa enroute to Charters Towers during my high school years, I had heard of the underground hospital that was built during WWII in anticipation of the Japanese advancing south from Darwin. As Mount Isa is a lead and copper producer and produced raw material for ammunition, military planners had considered it may have been a target had our enemy been able to get so far south. As history tells us, this didn’t happen and patients from the Mount Isa hospital never had to be moved into the underground hospital to keep safe during a Japanese aerial bombardment.

We departed on the second morning and headed east to Richmond.


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