Homage To John McDouall Stuart

Thur. 27th June 2019

Posing wallaby and joeyAt breakfast, I say my mission for today is to photograph a wallaby with a joey in its pouch. Although there are many wallabies hopping around the cabins, I have not seen any with a baby (at any point in our stay in Australia). Well, as we pack to head out for the day one hops into view right outside our cabin! [Ed. Well, they do call Australia the Lucky Country!] So, panic stations, where is my camera, does it have the right lens and settings. Banker picture through the window, then stalk mode outside. One good shot before she gets wind of me quick and runs off, all before 9am. Mission accomplished. However, I am not allowed to put my feet up and gloat at my success as we have places to go.

Stuart MemorialThe map we were given at check-in shows that on the coast some 60km north of our location there is a monument to John McDouall Stuart, who we first came across in Alice Springs. He was an experienced surveyor and bushman and led an expedition to chart a route from Adelaide to Darwin. The Australian government offered £2,000 to the first person to do so as they were keen to install an overland telegraph link from the south to join an underwater cable to Java. Our visit to the Telegraph Station in Alice taught us about both the overland telegraph and Stuart, so we felt it was fitting to visit the end point of his journey. The main highway through the centre of Australia is called after him and we have come across the Stuart Highway in a number of places.

This really is the track we drove downThe track was remarkably good (for an Australian track) and we made easy progress to get to the car park in about an hour, and the cairn was a further hour’s walk from there. Stuart’s party took 6 days to make the same trip from Mistake Billabong, close to our hotel. It also took Stuart three attempts to complete this last leg to the coast, previously thwarted by hostile Aboriginals and also the rough rocky terrain was too much for his horses’ shoes. Having spent the last month in the area we are beginning to appreciate the terrain Stuart and his party would have endured (the Aboriginals are now more friendly).

Car park for Britz!As we arrived at the car park we had a sweepstake on how many other cars would be there, I said one and Dave said three. There was one car and a tractor so I claimed victory. If we had said how many cars would we see then Dave called it right as two other cars came later as we set up for lunch after our walk. It is surprising how many people do go to these out of the way places.

Patterns in the long grassI digress so, getting back to the walk. It was a simple 3km walk across the flat savannah where the wind has blown the grass into interesting waves which distracted us for some arty shots. The wind wasn’t blowing today as the sun beat down on us with no sign of any shade. We have been impressed all through Australia how well marked all the trails have been with different coloured markers for different paths. The paths are also graded but we have not always agreed with these grades. We read this was a grade 5, so it should be rough terrain with scrambling – nope, as flat as a pancake and no scrambling required.

Impressive baob treeThe cairn/monument replaces the tree where Stuart carved his initials to mark his arrival in 1862 which burnt down in 1902 and so can no longer be seen. The banyan tree shading the monument is quite impressive. The path heads on past the monument to the sea, well I say sea but as the tide is out so the path ends in the mangrove swamp. With signs warning of crocodiles we decide to settle for hearing the sea, even if we could not see the sea.

_DGH2913On our way back to the hotel we call in at Mistake Billabong to see what that is all about. The sign says it was named after a mistake but no one knows what mistake! I just love the sheer number of birds at all these waterholes. It is quite mesmerising watching them feeding, flying here and there not to mention trying to get that one amazing photo. The egrets are so photogenic but as common as a seagull here. Even if the locals ignore them I can still claim tourist status and click away. If the birds are too far away there are always the lilies to take a pic off as they will not fly off!

Lily flowerTomorrow we head for Darwin so we have one last chance of sunset photos over a billabong and we have not yet seen the one next to the lodge, five minutes walk away. We head past the staff quarters where the off duty members are playing table-tennis and enjoying the sun going down. The rooms look a step up from a Roadhouse but I don’t fancy working in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town is Humpty Doo about an hour away with Darwin twice that, small distances in Aussie terms and not as remote as say the Bungle Bungles. Seeing the staff in these places reminds me of when Steve worked a ski season, enjoy the moment and save as much money as you can.

Patient bee eaterThis little rainbow bee-eater posed for Dave but the wallabies, egrets, hawk, croc to name a few were less accommodating. We see the hotel’s sightseeing boat and are happy not to be going out for another such boat tour. We are, however, intrigued by the airboat they keep mentioning in the hotel, which may or may not be here tomorrow morning for us to go out on. We end the evening in the comfy outside seating area around a real fire chatting with other guests. The evenings get chilly so the fire is essential. We really have enjoyed Wildman Wilderness lodge with its understated luxury and peaceful setting.

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