Rockhampton 24 June - 15 July 2013
It was Heather's birthday on Monday and mother nature put on a special show for her – straight outside our window. First we had a brilliant sunrise with the radiance from the sun seeping through the fog and lighting up the river. Then we had a succession of native birds flying down to examine the ashes to see what was good to eat. Drove up to Rockhampton, a city of about 60,000 on the Fitzroy River and yes, it also suffered during the January floods. Rockhampton has some beautiful buildings along the river, left over from when it was the major port for the gold rush. We expected to free camp where we had stayed last time, however we were warned that the council had closed the area and were issuing fines. Stayed at a caravan park on the river and except for the crocs, it is a very peaceful spot. Back in Rocky and enjoying the camping spot. We are camped right on the water and have a good time watching the sun set over the river, while enjoying a drink. We have visited the botanical gardens a few times and have been very impressed. As well as a large number of mature tropical plants, they have magnificent grounds and a free zoo - not bad for a small city! The CBD has many fine old buildings and they could easily make an old time movie here. It also has many vacant shops and the locals blame this on the large shopping centre that has been built a few Kms north of the city. On Friday night we went to the Great western - an old pub near the railway line that holds a live rodeo out the back. The cattle come in by rail or road train and there were a variety of riders from young keen riders to older experienced cowboys. It was something new for us and we enjoyed the experience. Some of the bulls were really wild and it took a lot of work to get out of the ring once they had bucked their riders. The funniest incident occurred when a bull, having bucked its rider, made a bid for freedom and bolted through an open gate. Everybody scattered, the cowboys suddenly woke up to what was happening and raced into the street to capture it. Everybody thought it was a great joke! On Saturday morning Peter it the garage sale trail and scored some great antique buys including a silver cake fork and an English tea set. On Sunday we went to the local produce market and Heather was fascinated to see so much local tropical fruit on sale. We also had a look at the Archer Park Railway Museum that had an open day. There were classic cars on display, a Scottish band, a group of Star War enthusiasts in full costume, some of the worst karaoke singing we have ever heard and free rides. It was situated at the old Archer St Station that played a vital role in WW2 and the displays were of a very high standard. This week the weather has been superb, with temperatures in the mid 20's. On Tuesday we went to the Rockhampton Art Gallery for a presentation on a current exhibition. They have an amazing variety of art work from here and overseas and said their collection is now worth 13 million. Enjoyed another beautiful sunset over the river. Heather was going to go out to Great Keppel Island, however the weather has turned cloudy with a touch of rain – still warm but not very good for swimming – maybe on the weekend.Instead she hit the op shops again and was lucky enough to score a heap of vintage material – dresses, tea towels, glasses, china, fabric, etc. On Friday we drove to Gracemere to the cattle sales. The Rocky area is the home of beef cattle in Queensland and this was evident by the enormous stock yards that stretched for hectares. The auctioneer talked non-stop, but all the farmers seemed to understand and quickly bought the cattle they wanted. Some of the cattle had never been yarded before (having been rounded up by helicopter) and were pretty 'ornery'. Talking to people at the sale, it really brought it home to us that most town folk have little understanding of farming life and the amount of work it takes to produce our food. Went onto Mt Morgan (an old mining hamlet) about 30km to the west, a town that was forgotten by history once the gold ran out. Mt Morgan is typical of many of the old mining towns we have seen in our travels – mountainous countryside, abandoned mines - with the wounds of the diggings scaring the hillsides, a small main street and all the old shops and houses preserved – not through a heritage order but because no one was interested in rebuilding anything. Although not a big town, it stretches for Kms, as there is so much space between the houses. We had an enjoyable time exploring the town and historical museum, then went for a walk along the old dam. Had lunch in an old pub, which was quite good. They had a menu on the wall from the 1920's that reminded Peter of the food that was on offer when his grandmother took him on trips – ah the good old days! On Saturday night we went to the Grand Reunion Rodeo at the back of the pub. We were surprised when they started the night with a prayer – religion runs deep in the north. The riders varied from small boys to veteran cowboys who rode anything from poddy calves to raging bulls and bucking broncos. They were all very brave and although fit, still suffered injuries from being thrown and trampled by the bulls – a very unhealthy 'sport' for man and beast. There were a few funny incidents – a bull was going around in circles to buck his rider and once he had thrown him, he kept on turning around he got so dizzy that he lay down. Another bull didn't want to leave the arena and for about 15 minutes the cowboys tried everything to get it out, including using a bob cat. However the bull kept on turning and twisting and at one stage nearly tipped the bob cat over. On Sunday Heather finally got out in a cat to Great Keppel Island. With NAIDOC Week on Heather went across the road to visit an Aboriginal hostel. On Wednesday we drove north to visit the Rockhampton Historical Village. This is another enterprise owned by the council and they have done a fantastic job in bringing buildings, equipment and artefacts together and transformed them into a small town, with houses, stables, a school, church, hospital, fire station, shearing shed and farm. It was interesting that they had encouraged different community groups to use the village as their headquarters and this gave it a vibrant feeling with people bustling around working on their projects. One of the volunteers told us that the council is having financial difficulties and cutting back the funding by two-thirds. It is not surprising really when you consider that the council also has to maintain a botanical garden, a zoo, an art gallery and a railway museum. The village had a number of original houses from around the district, which included all their furnishings and it enforced our appreciation of the hard work that our grandparents had to undertake to survive. On Friday we went to a NAIDOC Week function, which started with a march from the city to a cricket oval. There were a lot of people attending and it was a real festival atmosphere. Everything was very well organised and they had lots of information about indigenous issues as well as some great music. On Saturday we went to some craft markets but didn't buy anything – Heather thought that anything she liked, she would enjoy making herself. We had a look at the new indigenous exhibitions at the Art Gallery – Jimmy Pike and Murri Girls. Jimmy Pike was famous for the psychedelic colours he used, but in reality he used a wide variety of mediums and colours that reflected his close connection to country, as well as his intimate knowledge of his traditional stories. The weather has settled into a lovely pattern – cool nights and warm days around 23c! On Sunday we went up to the Historical Village again for a large market and had an enjoyable time – very different from last time when we had the place to ourselves, but a great atmosphere.