Dan and Justy Down Under


February 10, 2005

Dan or Justy

In the dusty, sun-crisped outback we finally found a night of comparative cool. By morning the bugs were starting to cooperate to get into the van, but luckily the sun stopped them cold. Ha! Strange bedfellows indeed, us and the sun.

We're getting the kind of looks here I expected everywhere. Even though Carters Towers is a mere hour and a half from Townsville (a bustling tropicalopolis), folks here seem to be surprised to see tourists. Maybe most skip here and head out into the deeper red. The history here suits us and I'd say we're glad not to have made such a decision. Oh yeah, the van gets stared at a lot. For the older folks, I think this is because we have a black man's face painted on it. They often don't return our friendly waves.

We have come to enjoy a mid-day snack in the covered marketplace that was once the stock exchange for the mining concerns here. Bedraggled (as only miners could be) miners would stumble back into town with a load of ore to be crushed and chlorinated (later, cyanidated) in a large-scale assay process developed specifically here. Since the claims were owned by others, they would trade the gold for shares of the mining company, with a worth set by the market.

Adorning each table in the courtyard are laminated copies of the frontpage of vintage Charters Towers newspapers. The one in front of me screams the headline "Israel-bound" for an article about Australia taking the lions share of kosher meat production from Argentina and Uruguay. One reads that one third of Australias beef herd lives in the fields around Charters Towers. This is astounding for more than a demographic reason. You must need a plane to see this, because it is not at all visible from the road.

It was sprinkling rain for a while, and our mood was giddy.

We spent part of the morning rummaging around a house that has been boarded up for 35 years. Justy drove all over the town looking for interesting homes to shoot, and settled on a decrepit highly-stilted house (the airflow keeps the house cooler) that appeared shuttered. Our luck was that the owner was present, arranging items for the saturday auction. Allen Peno showed us around the place and we talked at length.

Like most older Australians, he looks younger than his years. I think the sun prematurely ages folks and then at some point can do no more damage. If you survive this, you will eventually look young for your years.

He recounted tales of the arrival of Americans during WWII. He and other kids chased the plane down the field that was later to be the heart of a large airbase. The airmen were lost and didn't know they'd arrived at their destination. One airman gave him a stick of chewing gum. Allen chewed it everyday for six months.

He expressed gratitude for, as he put it, "saving us from the Japs". Without America's help, he believed the Japs would have killed them all. As best I can recall, he said: "America gets a lot of resentment in the world, but at the end of the war, they'd beaten the Japs and they gave their country back to 'em. If the Japs had won the war? They'd have killed the bloody lot of us."

Allen had been bitten by a snake a while back and seemed to have a slight paralysis in his face. One of his sisters married an American from that base in WWII. He now has a large extended family outside of Daytona, Florida. They all blanche when he calls them Yanks.

The contents of the house were dusty, of course, but surprisingly intact. The old 78 record player was in considerable disrepair, but no doubt restorable. It had a large conical speaker straight out of the old RCA Victrola ads. Justy found several pinhole cameras that were quite servicable, despite the neglect.

We visited the Pioneer Cemetary, which was used from 1871 to 1895. It is a big place with most of the graves simple accumulations of small stone bounded by bigger stones. Some of the more wealthy deceased have headstones and even a fence around the grave. Most are in serious disrepair, although obviously looked after to some degree.

Most follow the tradition of the time and include a couplet or two of poetry from the bible or other famous fiction. Nearly all go the route of believing all to be according to divine will. A few, however, lament their loss and admit of no solace. A number mention being killed in mining accidents.

Lunch in the park with snoozing bats in the trees. Sheriff Nevill wandered by and we invited him to join our desert of fresh mango. The Sheriff's belt was empty, and I thought maybe there's a rule against wearing that stuff while off-duty, but another theory presented itself directly. The Sheriff was a special man. An unspeakably huge man, his hands were bigger than my head, but a smiling giant. He proudly showed off his name badge. He had some mango and we sat in silence for most of the time. His speech was a low mumble and we were forced to guess what he said. Luckily he often pointed his head in the same direction as the object of his observation.

We left Charters Towers, ready to return one day. We arrived to Ravenswood just before dusk and were treated to the most spectacular sunset in our month journey. We took it in from a high point observation point set up on mine property. The mine is a wonder to behold. It is too big for peripheral vision. The pit is already more then 105 meters deep and they expect it to reach 280. The rock faces are vertical and very climbable. Once mining ceases, the pit is expected to fill with water and become a lake. Some zebra mussels later and you've got one helluva Dutch Down Under! :)

This evening we found ourselves in Ravenswood, a small ghost of a town. Yet another shell of a town left behind from the gold rush days, but this one is still producing gold! Though our first look at the ore mine was at sunset, we can clearly see that the hole dug here was significant. The signs told us that at the deepest, this mine was over 200 meters, that would make it close to 1000 feet!

We spent the eve in one of the remaining 2 hotels in town. At its peek, the town boasted nearly 40 hotels. Lucky us, thursday eve is the night for the mine workers to par-tey! And part-ey they did! Until 2am, with guitars and tons of singing.

The local museum was closed, as this is the low tourist season, but the signs clearly pointed to the 11:30 blasting. At the mine, that is. We were in town in time for a blasting. Though safety dictated that we were not allowed anywhere near the blast, we could still hear and feel the double blast.

Ravenswood and Charters Towers are both towns Id like to come back to one day. Tonight, were off to Ayr.

Itinerary Highlights
January 20: Winery Tour
21-23: Moreton Bay Diving
25: Australia Zoo
26-30: Lady Elliot Island
February 13: Diving the Yongala
15-17: Cape Tribulation + Daintree Rain Forest
17-20: Atherton Tablelands
22-28: Coral Sea Diving Liveaboard
March 11-13: OzTek Dive Conference: Sydney
14: Fly to New Zealand
20: Poor Knights Islands Diving
31: Mt. Cook
April 2-4: Queenstown
TBD: To Be Dreamed

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