Queensland, Mt Isa to Normanton – Dash 8 flight

A Dash 8, 100 series plane, built in 1987, took us from Mt Isa to Normanton.  Although only 380km, a relatively short distance for these parts of outback Queensland, it took us four hours to reach our destination.  We landed at three other places before arriving in Normanton as we were on the twice weekly ‘milk run’.

Dash 8 aircraft belonging to Skytrans P1080226 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Firstly we landed at Doomadgee, an aboriginal settlement, then Burketown before flying across the north coast and over the Gulf of Carpentaria for a short distance to Mornington Island and its main centre of Gununa.  Apart from exchanging a few passengers and some AustPost mailbags, not a lot happened at these stops.  As the flight was booked many months ago, our tour company requested window seats for us all.  Skytrans obliged so we all had wonderful views of the everchanging patterns and colours below.

We were running 50 minutes behind time so were only allowed off the aircraft in Burketown.  Wandering around the outside of the terminal (a small tin shed) we did see some black-faced wood swallows, zebra finches, a couple of brolga who obligingly took off to join some black kites already soaring on the wind currents.

Burketown is an acknowledged centre for burramundi fishing.

The Welcome sign P1080227 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Black-faced Wood Swallows P1080238 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Flying in this area of Australia presents some wonderful patterns on the ground.  The flight bookings had been made many months ago with window seats being requested for us all.  This request was met so everybody had a good view.

Wonderful patterns of the Gulf Country P1080246 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

We eventually arrived in Normanton where we had a late lunch at the Albion Hotel. Our tour leader generally had the lunch menu so we made our choice from this before he phoned ahead.  This gave the limited staff at these places a chance of serving us in a reasonable time. The menu generally had things like pies, sandwiches and wraps to choose from.  This pub was built in the late 1880’s in Croydon and relocated to its present location in Normanton during the early 1900’s.

The Albion Pub, Normanton P1080268 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

There were some interesting signs in the pub P1080267 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

After lunch we boarded our specially chartered Rail Motor (RM 60) for the four mile run to the first turning triangle out of Normanton.  This length of track is all part of the Normanton yards, if we had wanted to go any further east, we would have had to get permission from ‘Control’ in Townsville.  The driver could loose his job without this approval.

RM60 at 4 mile turning triangle P1080297 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

RM 60 is a unique vehicle.  It is powered by a 45hp AEC motor and was built in the Ipswich Railway Workshops in 1931.

RM60 in Normanton Station 1080279 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

It’s a rough ride over rough lightly constructed track, but a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

view from observor’s seat RM60 P1080297  DY of ‘jtdytravels’

More of this journey anon   David

Queensland, Mt Isa – a mining town

Mt Isa – a mining town

Mt Isa mines, which is owned by Xtrata, is a huge operation.  The main mine and processing infrastructure sits on the western edge of town.  The metals extracted from the area include silver, lead, zinc and copper

Mt Isa Mine from look-out hill

As big as the mine is, the whole infrastructure is to be demolished over the next 3-4 years as the ore bodies beneath this part of the mine are worth many more millions of dollars than the buildings.  The removal of these buildings will allow for the creation of a super pit which will be over 5km long and provide ore for the next 70+ years.

At present the mine is working at a depth of 2800m.  The lift that gets the miners to the workings has two decks, each of which carries 92 people.  The lift descends at a speed of 63km/h to level 22 which is at a depth of about 1000m.  From there the workers are taken to their worksites in Toyota vehicles.  These vehicles only last two to three years because of the very difficult conditions under which they operate.  Once no longer serviceable they are crushed, presumably by some vehicle larger than themselves, and pushed into a worked out stope which is then back-filled.  Why does the mine keep using Toyotas, when they only last a few years?  They outperform and outlast any other comparable vehicle.  Apparently there is billions of dollars worth of equipment that has been dealt with in this manner, buried underground.

The mine produces its own pollution which is expelled from four large chimney stacks but as the prevailing wind is westerly, this pollution is blown away from the town and out into the dessert.  It is said that the copper content of this smoke is the reason why the Western Red Kangaroos out in the Simpson Desert are a coppery colour!?

There is a small mine which was abandoned many years ago a little further into town.  Xtrata has set this old working up as their training centre for new workers and as a visitor experience.  Called the ‘Hard Times Mine’, it was not given that name for the obvious reason but because it was the name of the dog that belonged to the prospector who discovered the mine!

‘Hard Times’ poppet head, winding house to left P1080213 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Visitors are taken underground where all facets of a day in the life of a miner are experienced.  We had to don safety gear which included a bright orange set of coveralls, a helmet with light and gum boots.  We really looked as though we meant business.

A miners safety gear – we mean business P1080217 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

We were ushered into a cage which lowered us into the mine, down a distance of only about 20 metres, and certainly not at the speed of the real thing.  It was a rather sedate descent, with of course, the obligatory ‘power failure’ and therefore unscheduled stop.  This all fell a bit flat as most of us had been underground before and were up with the tricks the lift operators get up to.

Underground there were all the usual things from reo bolted to the walls and ceiling to prevent cave-ins, to vehicles and various drilling apparatus.  The miners don’t like the reo bolted into the rock as they preferred the old wooden props which they say ‘talked’ to them.  This gave the experienced miner a warning of trouble ahead.  The metal doesn’t talk until it fails; then it is all a bit too late!  It was a great tour with the two and three quarter hour experience coming to an end all too quickly.  It is, however, as close to being a miner I want to get.

We were not permitted to take any cameras below ground.

One comment that has to be made is about the size of the meals served around town.  They are huge and rightfully so for a workforce which expends so much energy all day, every day.  But, for us poor pensioners, the thought of having to wade through the colossal plate full of food is all a bit daunting.  Mind you, most of us manage, but I think it is mainly because we were brought up to eat what was put in front of you and not waste food.  Please, more buffets, where portion control is our business.

Two of our group have lived in The Isa in the past.  B.. was an R and D manager and lived in the town for 8 years, the other, S…, was the wife of a mine worker.  They decided that they wanted to reminiscence and have a look at their old homes so we jumped in a taxi and ventured into the suburbs.  This took us off the beaten tourist track and gave a pretty good idea of the real Mt Isa.  This turned out to be a worthwhile exercise for us all, as they found their respective houses in equal or better condition than they remembered them.

More anon  David

Queensland Outback Railway Adventure


Canberra View P1000056    JT  of  ‘jtdytravels’

I have long held dream to travel one of the unsung great railway journeys of the world – to outback Queensland in Australia.

Leaving the cold of Canberra’s winter behind was no great hardship – although it’s a delightful city to live in at any time of the year – but then I just may be a wee bit biased!

Join me for the journey!  David