At 240 meters above sea-level Mt Morgan is an old gold mining
town that dates back to the 19th century. It is
slightly off the beaten track, the closest regional city is
Rockhampton which is 38 km to the north east. Most tourists on
the main highway, the Bruce Highway passing through “Rocky” are
too much in a hurry to get to the Great Barrier Reef than to
make a detour to this old gold mining town. There are no modern
shopping centres, just a post office, a few general stores,
bakery and as in any old gold mining towns, a good selection of
pubs and local characters who inhabit them.
I pulled up
out front of the Victoria hotel. While most of the buildings in
Mount Morgan are old wooden buildings, the Victoria Hotel in the
middle of town is built from brick. There’s a small bar at the
front of the hotel. As I pulled up out front, a few drinkers
sitting by the open window of the bar gave me the thumbs up and
came out to talk about Hewie and their classic cars. Most of
them had indulged in a few too many drinks. I asked one of the
sober drinkers, who introduced himself as Jim.
“Why is it that everyone is slightly under
the whether while it’s just gone midday?”
starts at 11am. Since the mine closed most people here are on
the dole. Before midday is about the only time most of them can
afford a drink or two” he said.
into the bar and enquired about a room for a few days but the
accommodation section was under renovation. I headed down to the
Leichhardt Hotel and secured a room for two nights for $25 a
ceased in 1990 but had begun in 1882 and it its hey day Mount
Morgan produced a total of 240 tonnes of gold, 55 tonnes of
silver and 360,000 tonnes of copper. The old mine is on the hill
behind the town. The chimney stack still rises up from amongst
the rusty iron roofing of the old crushing sheds. The gold mine
started from the top of the hill, they just dug down into it
from the top. Now all that’s left is a large creator which has
filled up with rain water. The problem is that the water is very
acidic. When the gold is brought to the surface at mines, it
often also brings the mineral pyrite. Unfortunately pyrite
reacts with oxygen and water to form acid. This acid can seep
through the earth, even dissolving metal as it goes. The problem
in Mount Morgan is that the acid is seeping out of the mountain
and into the local river. Furthermore the big pool of acid water
lies above the town. The worry is that one day a cyclone may hit
the town, dropping enough rain to fill the pool of acid to
overflow down the hill and through the town.
I’d only booked in for three days at the
hotel, I wasn’t about
to let it worry me. Next morning I headed down to the local
tourist office located in the old railway station building and
booked myself on a day tour of the old mine.
When trains stopped running, the line up from
Rockhampton was torn up in 1988 leaving just 4 kilometres in
Mount Morgan which is used to run a
tourist train hauled by a
small Hunslett steam locomotive which was built at Hunslett in
Leeds and began service at the Mount Morgan Mine in 1904. The
engine worked in the mine until 1947 when it was retired. In
1995 it was restored before returning to the rails.
just as all the crew were arriving to fire up the loco and
tourist office staff were starting work.
When I enquired about
the mine trip, they said it’d be a leaving little later today
as they’d all had a big party the previous evening and were
feeling a little hung over and weren’t sure who was going to
arrive for work.
“In the meantime you can go for a ride on the steam
train while you’re waiting for the mine tour.” the woman behind
the tourist office counter told me.
I managed to
get in the way and ask lots of tourist questions while they were
firing up the loco. With a belly full of steam they coupled it
onto the two small carriages and after picking up a few more
tourists we chugged out along the 4 kilometres of track. Before
returning, the driver and his fireman stopped the train at the
end of the line to give us a brief history of the loco and the
back at the station, the mine tour guide had arrived and was
waiting for his tour guests to arrive back from their steam
train ride. The highlight of the tour was the view down into the
mine, now a crater of blue acid water. It certainly looked
inviting for a swim but you probably would emerge lacking a good
few top layers of skin.
mining tour I headed a short distance out of town to the Mount
Morgan showgrounds as today was the first day of the annual
Mount Morgan agricultural show. Not that I have a keen interest
in prize cattle and poultry, but this show had something that
being a city and coastal dweller I’d heard of, but never had the
chance to see - a boxing tent.
The tent was
run by a company that called themselves Bells Touring Stadium. I
arrived to find a bright orange stage set up well above the
There was a compare and either side of him were his
five boys. These were the boxers who were going to challenge the
wannabes from the audience. Two of the youngest boxers rang the
bell and beat on an old base drum to warm up the crowd. The
compare then stopped the noise and introduced himself and his
troop of boxers. He then lifted up the right arm of the youngest
boxer and encouraged someone in the crowd to challenge him.
There was monetary prize, but we’re not told exactly how much it
was. Anyone who wanted to challenge him had to be under16 years
of age. Lots of hands went into the air, locals eager to prove
their pugilist skills. The compare picked one, he looked no
older than about fourteen and was a Harry Potter look alike,
with the Harry Potter like glasses included! He didn’t look
anything like a boxer. If anything he looked soft and tender
like a mummy’s boy. He looked like the first punch would knock
him down, black eye included.
“OK, my boy,
do your folks know that you’re entering the competition? said
“Yep, my dad’s over there” said the Harry
Potter look alike.
“Are you in a local boxing club?” asks the compare.
“Do you go to school here in Mount Morgan?”
“Looking forward to making some cash eh?” said the compare.
“I sure am!”
“Do you think you’re fit enough to challenge my boy
here?” said the compare. I could well imagine he knew too well
that youngster was no where fit enough for the challenge.
“What’s your name son?”
come up here on stage and stand beside him. Get your Mum to hold
his place next to the troupe boxer. The base drummer started
beating the drum again and the bell boy
gonged away at the bell.
The drum and bell creates an air of excitement. The compare sent
out a loud whistle, a signal for the drummer and bell ringer to
stop the noise. He then bought forward another of his boys, this
new one is a little older than the last. The compare again asked
the crowd for challengers. Same as before, there was no lack of
teenagers in the audience eager to prove themselves.
continued with the audience getting bigger and bigger. I looked
around the stalls selling hot-dogs, fairy floss and the shooting
galleries. They were all empty of customers. The stall
attendants, like everyone else, had their eyes firmly fixed on
the biggest sideshow of them all – the boxing. When he finally
got a challenger for his last and oldest boxer he then announced
that the show would start in about five minutes. The entrance
fee was $10. There was a rush for the entrance. Just about
everyone in the large crowd headed in to see the show. Inside
the tent was hot and dusty. The punters stood around the boxing
ring which was a large sheet of heavy duty plastic mat placed on
the ground. Two small stools sat either side of mat. Once the
tent filled the show quickly got under way.
Bells Touring Stadium, ladies and gentlemen. I hope that you
enjoy your afternoon of boxing. OK let us get the show on the
road.” He then looked toward the boxers standing in the ring.
“Fit the first youngest two with the biggest
gloves. We don’t want them doing any damage to each other” said
boys faced up to each other, shook hands and the bell was rung.
The fight started and after no less than a
couple of minutes it
was obvious that Randy wasn’t anywhere as fit as the touring
boxer. But he did his best to dodge his opponent’s right hander,
but he had no chance. He quickly started to lose his breath, so
the compare finished the round and called it even.
to pay young Rudolf the money” said the compare.
“Ruldolf, ha, ha, ha.” A roar of laughter
went up from the crowd.
”His name is Randy!” screamed a group of Randy’s friends.
“Sorry about that, I mean Randy.” the compare
"Now can everyone put their hands into their pockets
and throw some change in onto the canvas for our two boys.
They’ve done a good job”
had already paid $10 to get in, now they get conned into
donating more money. How much young Randy
won, we were never
told. The show continued until the fourth entrant got up and
gave the Bells boxer a serious challenge. The compare stopped
the round before either could get knocked out. He then awarded
the local boxer the prize money and a cheer went up from the
crowd. The last round got underway and the champ went over and
sat with his friends. His mates gathered around their new local
hero and all started slapping him on the back. The girls were
kissing him. But he didn’t look right, he looked a little grey.
As I stood there half watching the last round and observing the
celebrations on the side, without any notice he just fell over
backwards, flat on his back. Two police constables standing in
were called over. They slap some water on his
face, but he didn’t move. The constable pulled a radio out of
his side pocket and called for an ambulance. The last round is
called off early and the show comes to an end.
“I’d like to
thank everyone for coming this afternoon. I hope you’ve all had
a good time. See you all at next year’s show. Thank you and have
a nice evening.”
filed out of the tent. I walked down to the bar for a beer and
had a look at the prize cattle and poultry before going back to
Back at the
pub, I wandered through the bar, waved to the owner and head up
the stairs to my room. The room overlooked the street, so I sat
on a rickety old chair out front on the veranda to enjoy the
sunset and the sound of the birds making their roost in the
trees surrounding the old hotel.
From Mount Morgan there
are two ways heading north - into Rockhampton then north via the
Bruce Highway or drive west through to Emerald via the Capricorn
Highway. I missed Rockhampton and took the westward route and
made my first stop at Blackwater which is the start of coal
mining region. From here I headed another 100 kilometres on the
Capricorn Highway for another hour and twenty minutes to the
regional centre of Emerald. From here I drove north along the
Gregory Developmental Road another 108 kilometres through to
I checked into the Commercial hotel. A single room overlooking
the main street, a steak dinner, two beers and a get it yourself
breakfast came to the grand total of $48. I had visited Clermont
a few years previously and had gone on the Blair Athol coal mine
tour. Many large mining companies handed over the tours of their
works to a private tour companies. Employees of the mining
company take out the tours themselves, which are free of charge.
Most of the high quality steaming coal that
comes from the open cut mine is railed out to the coast and
shipped to Japan. Black diamonds are Australia’s biggest
export earner. The mine now sits where the town of Blair Athol
once stood. Not that it was a big town, but the whole town was
demolished and a big hole dug where it once was. There is
something to remind workers and visitors to the mine that a town
once existed there - a single telegraph pole is all that is
left. The Blair Athol mine is about 15 kilometres north of
I made an
early departure from Clermont the next morning. My next stop was
Belyando Crossing. Although a distance of only 166 kilometres
this was the longest run, so far, without a town or a service
station. I suppose it’s just the nagging thought at the back of
my mind of having to call a tow truck if Hewie blew a
piston or something around the halfway mark. But Hewie performed
well doing the run in 2 hours and forty minutes, chewing up
12.63 litres of fuel.
Crossing is just a service station and motel near the bridge
that crosses the Balyando River. On arrival, I met John, a
marathon walker. He’d arrived the previous evening on foot from
Charters Towers, his last stop 210 kilometres to the north.
John’s trip was to go from the extreme northern tip of the Cape
York Peninsular down to the extreme southern tip of Tasmania,
walking all the way. When I arrived he was just setting out to
head south, down to Clermont. He had a small light trailer which
he towed behind himself with a warning flag and a sign which
read “Tip to Toe”. I looked at his small trailer which contained a small bag of clothes, a small tent, spare walking
boots and food and water. There didn’t seem to be much water. I
wondered how he’d get by with what looked like very little water
to cover 166 kilometres by foot. Australia was in a serious
drought and we were right in the middle of the dry season so
there wasn’t any chance that he’d find a creek full of water
along the way. I’d just come through there, it was as dry as a
bone all the way.
you don’t carry much water” I asked.
But John was
by” he said as he hitched up his trailer and headed out over the
Belyando Crossing bridge towards Clermont. Obviously, John had
lived with little food and water for many months during his
travels and had grown accustomed to life without a near constant
Hewie into the small picnic ground and got out my one burner gas
stove and set it up on a picnic table under the shade of a few
trees and made a sandwich and cup of tea. I sat there eating my
lunch in the quietness of the Australian outback. Some birds
jumped down from the tree and sat on the table an arms length.
They looked me straight in the eye, moved their heads and
feathers and said in no uncertain terms. “We’re hungry, drop
something out of that sandwich so we can eat”
I threw then a little
piece of tomato, then a few crumbs of bread. They chirped away,
as they ate with one eye on me and the other on their food. They
also quickly started to trust me and moved closer and closer. I
lifted my mug and took a mouthful of tea and placed my mug back
on the table again. They jumped onto the rim of the mug and
looked down into the tea, then looked up again and looked me
straight in the eye. They didn’t chirp, just looked at me as if
to say. “There’s no food in the cup, we want food!” I lifted the
cup up again and took another drink of tea and placed it back on
the table. Again they jumped on the rim, looked in and turned
their heads to give me a dirty look.
With a tank
full of fuel I again headed north for the final run of 210
kilometres, non-stop, to the old gold mining town of Charters
Towers. The trip through relatively flat cattle country, took a
little over three hours, with a ten minute rest stop about half
way. About five cars and a few trucks passed me
going the other
way and a few passed going in my direction. There were no towns,
nor did I see any houses along the way, just a few cattle.
Charters Towers is probably the most beautiful inland city in
the state of Queensland. The main street is lined with buildings
from the gold rush era that started in the 1880’s.
in town, I booked into the Wellness Motel for one night at $60 a
night. The gentleman who came out to book me in was a healthy
looking sixty something year old. He looked just the part for a
motel with the name Wellness attached to it – neatly trimmed,
greyish, white hair and beard. His skin and smile seamed to
shine with health. I mentioned to him how I was on a trip around
Australia and needed to connect my computer to the internet to
check on what was happening back at the office.
“You’re phones are working OK?” I asked.
“They’re fine, a lot of people who stay here
connect their lap tops to the internet. You’ll need a modem.
Hold on, I’ll get it for you” he headed out to the back of the
“It’s OK, I already have a modem in my
computer, I don’t need another one.”
“Oh yes you will!” as he handed over a device
that looked like a modem from about ten years previous.
“I do have a modem” I insisted.
“Believe me, you will need this. Connect it
between your modem and the telephone jack” he said.
Why argue I thought to myself. I deceided to
just take the whatever it was and give it back tomorrow.
“So it’s just one night you wish to stay with
us?” he asked
“Yes, thank you. If I need another night I’ll
let you know first thing in the morning” I said.
“That’ll be sixty dollars for the room and
three dollars for the modem”
I went down to the room and set up my PC and
plugged it into the phone jack, booted up the PC and pressed the
internet connect button. The machine failed to connect. I tried
again, no luck. I looked at the white plastic box Mr Wellness
called a modem. I picked it up and plugged it in between the
phone jack and the modem as he insisted and pressed the connect
button again. The PC dialled out and instantly connected to the
internet. I picked up the box and examined it carefully. It was
made by an Australian IT company, but there was nothing
imprinted on it saying what it was. Whatever it was, it worked.
Next morning, with the office out of sight,
packed away in the back of Hewie, I turned on the ignition and
pulled the starter. Nothing happened. I got out and opened the
bonnet and checked the leads to the battery. All appeared to be
connected. I went back and switched on the headlights. A light
brown light shone from them. The battery was dead flat. I
checked around for short circuits but everything appeared in
place. I went back and pushed Hewie out into the drive. A
group of house maids cleaning and changing the linen in the
rooms looked over. Three stood there looking at me.
“Need a push mate?”
“Yeah, thanks girls”
The three of them came over and all pushed from the back, while
I pushed from the side. Once we had enough momentum, I jumped in
and put him into third gear and let the clutch out. Hewie
kicked and spluttered, I gave the girls a wave and I heard one
of them say to the others.
“Piece a shit”
made his way down the road, I saw a motor parts store and
stopped across the street conveniently on a small hill so if he
stopped I could clutch start him again. I opened the bonnet and
started going over everything. I pulled the cover off the
voltage regulator, everything looked in working order. A
passer-by stopped to look at Hewie and stuck his head
under the bonnet alongside me.
she just rolled off the production line, what model is she”? he
when I tried to start him this morning the battery was flat. I
had to kick start him. The battery is about a year old. I’m not
sure where the problem is”
auto-electrician just down the street and around the corner.
You’ll see him in the little industrial area on the right.” he
I drove into
Drury’s Auto-Electrical. A couple of auto-electricians came over
and I opened the bonnet.
“An old generator” one said.
touched on these during my tech course, but I’ve never actually
worked on one before” said the other.
sure if it’s the generator, could be the voltage regulator or
maybe even the battery, I drove up from Clermont yesterday and
the battery was flat this morning. I went over it looking for a
loose connection but couldn’t find anything. I don’t have a
voltmeter.” He got out his voltmeter.
up, will ya mate”
place he went to was the two leads coming out of the generator.
your generator is burnt out, it’s just showing a small voltage”
he told me.
it’s just the carbon brushes worn out. I’ve had the car since
1998 and never touched the generator. Before I left home I was
thinking that maybe I should pull it apart, clean it up and
check the brushes.” I told him
come back in an hour? That will give me time to get it off and
pull it to pieces?” he said.
concerned that he’d tell me to come back next week. If he’d said
that, I would have driven away and fixed it myself in a car
space at a local service station, close to a spare parts
supplier. I headed downtown by foot and visited the Charters
Towers Stock Exchange, a grand masonry building on the main
street. The exchange opened in 1890 after the discovery of reef
gold. Hundreds of small, medium and large gold mining companies
were listed. When the boom finally finished and the population
dwindled, the exchange was closed in 1916.
the workshop, I found the auto-electrician searching through a
box full of brushes, nuts, bolts and pieces of junk, with the
generator on the bench in pieces.
right, it only needs a new set of brushes. My only problem now
is to find a set of brushes that will fit it. It’s never been
pulled apart before.”
sure it’s that new” I enquired warily.
“Ah, here we
go, these two brushes fit, I’ll grind them down a little and
they’ll fit perfectly. You’re lucky.”
“He put it
back together, gave it a new coat of paint and bolted it in. As
he pulled the generator out to tighten the belt I warned him
about making it too tight.
wear the belt away or damage the bearing in the end of the
generator.” I said.
He backed off a little,
but it was still a little tight for my liking. I like the
generator belt to be a little sloppy. It’s easier to replace the
belt than replace a bearing. But, I let it go.
bill for the work came to one hundred and three dollars. Fair
enough I thought to myself as I pulled my credit card out.
you of too next?” the electrician asked.
up in the Atherton Tablelands, I’m doing a trip around
he quickly barked back.
basically limp from town to town. But, I’ll make it” I told him.
I’d planned to head east
across to Townsville, but it was getting late in the day so I
decided to stay another night in Charters Towers. I headed over
to the local backpackers hostel which was an old railway
workers’ barracks. Normally on the coast and in popular tourist
areas backpacker hostels are full to overflowing. But, at
Charters Towers, being inland and off the tourist trail, this
hostel was near empty. It must have had about forty to fifty
rooms but with only a handful of guests. My own room with clean
linen and own TV the cost was twenty dollars a night.
I tried to
make an early start for Townsville the next morning but on the
way out of the hostel, I met with the owner. He asked about
Hewie and we got into the usual conversation ton classic
s. I took him for a run around the block in Hewie.
When we got back, he got out his 1948 model FX Holden utility,
which he then took me for a ride in.
I was hoping
for a seven o’clock departure, but ended up getting away about
nine that morning. It’s a little over two hours for a Morris
Minor side-valve from Charters Towers to the coastal tropical
city of Townsville. I had just reached the suburbs of
Townsville, when I noticed red streaks running down the
firewall. I slowed down and took a closer look. It was rusty
water, obviously radiator water. There was a service station up
ahead so I pulled in and opened the bonnet. The alloy mounting
on the side of the engine for the generator was leaking. My
fears of the generator belt being too tight and putting too much
pressure on the gasket between the engine block and alloy cover
were now real. I tried to tighten the bolts that held the cover
on. They moved a little but I feared that if I tried too much
the heads would snap off. I filled Hewie up with fuel and
purchased a bottle of Bars Leak. I then loosened up the
belt and took the top radiator hose off and poured the full
bottle of Bars Leak straight into the top of the engine, screwed
the radiator hose back into place, filled up with water and
headed towards Townsville.
Once in Townsville, I made a left turn onto
the Bruce highway and headed north towards Cairns. I was about
ten kilometres out when I could smell steam from the radiator
again. I pulled over, filled up with water and decided to call
it a day. The problem needed fixing. I headed back into
Townsville and got a room at the classic old Grand Railway
Hotel, across the road from the old railway station. In the
hotel car park I got my tool box out and proceeded to take off
the generator and then slowly started to undo the first of the
four bolts that held on the cover. The first and second
unscrewed easily. I thought I was home with the third but it
snapped off half way down the bolt. The fourth also came out
easily. Closely examining the cover I could see that part of the
problem was that the face was partly corroded. But the main
problem now was to get the broken bolt drilled out, tapped and
find a replacement bolt. Across the road was an auto repair
shop. Their parking lot was full, cars waiting for repair were
even parked on the footpath. It was just before five in the
afternoon and they were in the process of closing shop. I ran
across and asked them the possibilities of having them work on
my car. He went to a book.
“Look mate, we’re full up until next week,
can you bring it in next Tuesday.”
It was Wednesday.
guy a call, he’s the Leyland dealer for Townsville, he might be
able to help you.” He handed me his business card with the
Leyland dealer telephone number on the back.
I rang him
up. He spoke with a strong Geordie accent.
England are you from?” I asked.
upon Tyne, I’ve been out here twenty seven years”
lost your accent”
will, what can I do for ya?”
I told him my problems,
but got the same old answer.
ya at the moment, It’d be next week at the earliest before I
could do anything. I’m flat out.” he said.
“Well, that’s it,” I
thought to myself, “fix it myself or wait.” I went back to
Hewie and packed away my tools and over to the bar at the
hotel for an ice cold schooner of beer.
I found an old corn flake packet and made up a gasket and with a
liberal amount of gasket goo I bolted the cover back on, filling
up the hole left by the broken bolt with the remains of an old
t-shirt. This I hoped would get me through to Malanda where I
could borrow an electric drill and drill out the broken bolt and
finish the job off properly. I hit the highway again with an
extra supply of water and stopped every twenty minutes to top up
the radiator. That evening I made it through to the town of
Ingham. I stopped at a service station to top up with fuel but
mainly to fill up the water bottles. I opened the bonnet to find
that oil was leaking out of the top of the oil filter. The
culprit was the large brass nut on the top. Was it just loose or
was the seal damaged? I got out the tool box but didn’t have a
spanner large enough to fit the nut. I got out my largest
adjustable wrench, but it was too large to fit between the nut
and the inside of the mud guard. I worked at it for half an hour
before I finally stopped the leak. It worked out that the nut
was just loose. Thank god I’m in the habit of stopping every 100
kilometres, taking a stretch and checking the engine and oil.
Hewie for the day, I got a room the
Commercial Hotel in
Ingham. The room here was a basic hotel room, but it was a
bargain at only fourteen dollars a night. I dined at an Italian
restaurant, The Green Olive, across the road from the hotel.
Back on the
road north the next morning, I limped through to Innisfail,
eighty three kilometres south of Cairns which like Ingham is
another town that makes its living from the surrounding sugar
cane farms. I stopped by the local tractor and farm machinery
spare parts store. I walked into the old weatherboard building
with a corre gated iron roof. Inside every v-belt imaginable
hung from the rafters, cans of grease, oils, pumps, irrigation
equipment sat on the shelves. Out the back were lines of shelves
that housed every a vast collection of nuts, bolts and bits and
pieces of this and that.
“Do you have
a bolt this size but about half and inch longer? I’m not sure
of the thread, may BSF?” I asked the guy behind the counter. He
took it and wandered in behind the rows of shelves. A few
minutes later he came out with the exact size and thread bolt.
you have a tap and drill to drill out the old bolt that broke
off in the engine block?”
for?” he asked.
Minor out the front” he looked out the front of the store window
and looked back into the workshop out the back where mechanics
and welders were working on irrigation pumps and farm tractors.
blokes, come out and have a look at this!”
Everyone downed their
tools and came out to discuss the virtues of touring Australia
in a car where you could buy parts from any machinery shop,
tractor spare parts and various other junk stores.
here I’ll get a fan belt too. It’s a B29.”
no problem we’ve got plenty of them.”
with four new bolts, washers, a tap, an easy out, a few
sheets of wet and dry sandpaper, a drill and another can of
radiator stop leak I headed out to Hewie. I topped him up
with water and filled up my water jerry from a hose at the side
of the shop. The next and last leg of the first part of the trip
was uphill into the Atherton Tablelands. The store assistant
came out to wish me luck, reminding me of the climb ahead and to
take it easy.
The run up
the range to Milanda was about 60 kilometres, and I stopped
every fifteen kilometres and topped up the water. Hewie
stayed cool the whole way. It was good to meet up with my old
friends. I stopped by the local hotel and picked up a couple of
bottles of wine. We had a lot to celebrate as we’d not seen each
other for many years and Hewie had just completed the
first leg of his around Australia journey. I was jumping with