The Snail Trail

Travelling with my home on my back and in no hurry to get anywhere


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The Sheila from Mt Isa

Bev 2I met a bloke the other day
This Isa sheila, Bev
She swaggered like a fella
Her bush hat upon her head.

Her jeans hung low upon her hips
Beneath her ample girth.
You’d find no-one else more dinkum
If you travelled all the earth.

Her nickname is the Brolga
And it’s on her number plate
She’s nobody’s companion
But she’s everybody’s mate.

She volunteers at cub scouts
And she works at Isa mine.
She’s in the stores she tells me
And she reckons it’s all fine.

She takes no cheek from anyone
But is quick to give some lip,
And if she’s walking through the Isa
I’m giving you the tip.

Sing out g’day and give a wave
And say, “Is your name Bev?”
You’ll recognise her straight away
From the bush hat on her head.

And the way her jeans are slung low down
And her swaggering fella walk
She’ll give you the time of day, OK,
And stop and have a talk.

When you travel round this country,
No matter how you go,
You’ll get to meet some characters
And some you’ll get to know

But you’ll seldom meet a character
As dinky-di as Bev
The sheila from Mt Isa,
Her bush hat upon her head.

11 October, 2014.  RIP Bev Kerkhoffs – The Sheila from Mt Isa


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Farewell Mt Isa – and Thank You

What a wonderful experience living in Mt Isa has been! I have seen and done so much in the nearly 8 weeks I have been here and met some great people who became firm friends in such a short time. They opened up their hearts to me and included me in their lives – and that’s what made the Isa so special.

I have told you already about a lot of things I have been involved in but there’s a couple that you don’t know about yet so let me fill you in – or in the words of the late Peter Allen “I’ve got so much to tell you!”

The Mt Isa Rodeo was on the week before I left and yep, I got roped in to some volunteer work for the Lions – this time serving hot chips from their chip van at The Mailman Express. This is a horse race where the horses race against the clock over 200 metres rather than against other horses. A young woman from Bundaberg, Katie Vaughan, won on her quarter horse, Black Magic.There was a great crowd there and we sold 700 cups of hot chips that night. I never want to see hot chips again! They held a Calcutta and auctioned off the horses, a couple of them selling for about $2,500, and one of those was the winner in 11 point something seconds. To qualify the horses can’t be thoroughbreds. The race is named in honour of a local racing identity Wally Mailman, who is also the father of actress Deborah Mailman. This photo was taken early in the evening before the crowd arrived.

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Looking towards the finishing post before the race.

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Dave setting up the chip van.

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That morning was an early start as the Zonta Club held a bush poet’s breakfast that I attended and I was asked to read a couple of my poems – the one about the green frog in the toilet and one I had written about Bev, the sheila from Mt Isa. (They have been included in previous blog posts).There were a few gasps when I started reading the one about Bev as people recognised who I was talking about but I was there with Bev and she loves the poem so that was ok. At the end of the recitals everyone who took part was presented with a little clock as a memento and thank you for participating.

The weekend the rodeo was on the Variety Club Bash hit town, and you guessed it, I was volunteered again! This time it was with Meals on Wheels who had won the tender to feed the Bash participants. During the week I helped make about 30kgs of savoury mince for them and then helped serving up dinner on the Friday night and then breakfast on Sunday morning. The Bash crews were all dressed up to match the way they had decorated their cars and trucks so we had the Beverley Hillbillies, pink fairies, clowns, policemen, firemen, lawn bowlers and even Dame Edna Everage!

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They were great fun and played their parts really well, keeping in character most of the time. A lot of them went to the rodeo on the Saturday night so there were a few sore heads at breakfast on Sunday morning after which they took off on their next leg to Normanton.

I’ve been to my first rodeo!

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On the Sunday afternoon I took myself off to the Mt Isa Rodeo – after all it is billed as the biggest rodeo in the Southern Hemisphere. I stayed for a couple of hours and saw bareback bucking bronco riding, bull riding, cattle roping and the flag parade of all the sponsors. It was 34°C that day and after such a busy week I took myself home for a nanna nap before going around to Joy’s for dinner that night.

Paul and Shirley, owners of the house I have been looking after, arrived home the following week so my time in Mt Isa was coming to an end. I was farewelled in spectacular fashion with a sunset barra barbie at Lake Moondarra.Dave organised it, mainly as a thank you for his little team of volunteers that went to Avon Downs but it was my last night so it was a lovely way to leave. In the back row there’s Kerry, me and Dave’s wife, Toni. Joy and Dave are sitting in the front.

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Sunset at Lake Moondarra – magic memory to leave Mt Isa with.

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As a tribute to the friendship Joy offered me when I first arrived, and in recognition of all the amazing experiences that she roped me in to, I wrote the following poem. I still can’t read the last couple of lines without getting a little teary…..

When I was in Mt Isa I met this friend of Shirl’s.

Her name was Joy and she welcomed me so I felt like one of the girls.

Joy volunteers at Meals on Wheels and the Flying Doctor Service

But when it comes to driving she gets a little nervous.

She picked me up with Bev one day and we went down to the ‘Curry

We stopped at Driver Reviver – we weren’t in any hurry.

We sat down to enjoy the lunch that Joy had packed that day

And she’d planned the sights that we would see when we set off on our way.

But before we left we set a ‘bomb’ to get rid of any pest

That had made its home at Fountain Springs, a favourite roadside rest.

Another trip she took me on was out to Avon Downs.

It was the annual coppers cricket match and they turned out to be clowns.

They were dressed in crazy costumes, and Spiderman was there

It didn’t seem to matter what they chose to wear.

We went with Dave and Kerry to cook and sell the beer

And raise funds for the Flying Doctors and enjoy the outback cheer.

Then she roped me in to sell hot chips for the Lions Club, no less!

It was at a special horse race called the Mailman Express.

And when the Variety Club Bash hit town they needed to be fed,

So I stirred the pot and made a lot of savoury mince for them

And dished up dinner Friday night and breakfast Sunday morning.

If you’re going to Mt Isa I’m giving you this warning –

You’ll be volunteered for everything if you meet Joy and Dave

They’ll keep you so damn busy you won’t have time to misbehave.

But you’ll meet a lot of people and you’ll have a lot of fun

And, like me, you will be sorry when your time in Isa’s done.


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Getting Involved in Mt Isa

Did I have a choice to get involved? I don’t think so! The people I met picked me up and carried me along to all the places they volunteer. And it was the best thing I could have done.

I have now been house-sitting for about 7 weeks and my time in Mt Isa is drawing to a close. Paul and Shirley, who I have been house-sitting sit for, arrived home yesterday and it is time for me to plan my route back to the Gold Coast. I will be leaving Mt Isa much richer for the experiences I have enjoyed here thanks to Shirley’s wonderful friends Joy and Bev and the people they have introduced me to. Before I share some of my trips with you though, I must share some photos of the house I have been looking after, it’s garden and visitors.

Shirley has some beautiful fragrant roses out the front that have been in bloom.

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In the big bush at the front gate there is a family of Western Bowerbirds. Until I looked them up I thought someone had daubed them with bright pink paint. They are like massive overgrown sparrows in colour except for this clump of bright pink feathers behind their head.

IMG_0418And there are regularly fork-tailed (black) kites circling the back yard, eyeing off next doors chickens I think.

Black kite

To start at the beginning you might remember that I didn’t see much of Cloncurry on my way here so Joy and Bev took me back there and showed me some of their sights along the way.

Mt Frosty is an old limestone mine and I would never have seen it without local knowledge. Some of the remains of the old mine reminded me of scenes out of Mad Max

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Mt Frosty

We then went to the water tower which had great views over Cloncurry and across the countryside

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Once in Cloncurry we visited the John Flynn Museum. The Rev John Flynn was the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which was established in 1928.

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I loved the carpet which had been specially made to represent the landscape from the air, but honestly, you can look at the hills sometimes and they look exactly the same as the pattern on the carpet.

We also visited the Cloncurry Cemetry which had many historical graves, including that of Dame Mary Gilmore who features on our $10 note.  Click here to find out more about Dame Mary Gilmore and her contribution to Australian Literature and History. There was also a separate section in the cemetery for Afghans, who made up a large part of the early settlers in the area.

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Before we left Cloncurry we had to go out to the airport where the original QANTAS hangar is situated.

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On the way back to Mt Isa we stopped at the Chinaman Creek Dam which provides the water supply for Cloncurry

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We also had a detour into the abandoned township of Mary Kathleen, once a thriving community established to mine uranium, which as a matter of interest was found by my house-sit’s Uncle,  Norm Mc Conachy and named after his wife.

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Happy Campers

The old township of Mary K is a fantastic free camp site with room for hundreds of vans and is well signed and easily accessible off the Barkly Highway. There are established trees, roadways and if you want a level surface there are still concrete house pads there to park on. You would need to be self contained as there are no facilities. Sure beats the heck out of staying roadside at Fountain Springs though, which is only a few km’s closer to Cloncurry and is very busy, but does have toilets and shady tables to sit at. We stopped for a picnic at Fountain Springs on our way to Cloncurry and this is a photo of Bev and Joy, the two wonderful ladies who ‘adopted’ me in Mt Isa.

Bev & Joy

I wrote a poem about Bev, who is a real character, and read it at the Bush Poet’s Breakfast held by the Zonta club as part of the Mt Isa Rodeo week festivities. For my efforts I was presented with a lovely little clock. Here’s my poem, called The Sheila from Mt Isa. I must say there were a few gasps of recognition from the audience, but Bev was with me and it’s got her tick of approval so that’s ok!

The Sheila from Mt Isa

I met a bloke the other day, this Isa sheila, Bev

She swaggered like a fella her bush hat upon her head

Her jeans hung low upon her hips beneath her ample girth

You’d find no-one else more dinkum if you travelled all the earth.

Her nickname is the Brolga and it’s on her number plate

She’s nobody’s companion, but she’s everybody’s mate.

She volunteers at cub scouts and she works at Isa mine.

 She’s in the stores she tells me and she reckons it’s all fine.

She takes no cheek from anyone but is quick to give some lip,

And if she’s walking through the Isa I’m giving you the tip.

Sing out g’day and give a wave and say, “Is your name Bev?”

You’ll recognise her straight away from the bush hat on her head.

And the way her jeans are slung low down and her swaggering fella walk

She’ll give you the time of day, OK, and stop and have a talk.

When you travel round this country, no matter how you go,

You’ll get to meet some characters and some you’ll get to know

But you’ll seldom meet a character as dinky-di as Bev

The sheila from Mt Isa, her bush hat upon her head.


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Hard Times – Underground at Mt Isa

I was warmly welcomed by Paul and Shirley when I arrived in Mt Isa – they are the people I am house sitting for while they go off on their caravanning holiday. We spent 3 days together before they were packed and ready to leave. What luxury! A real bed, a warm shower every day, running water, a proper flushing toilet –  and all the other things we take for granted. I don’t know how long I’ll be here as Paul and Shirley don’t know how much they’ll enjoy their nomadic lifestyle. As they left they said it could be 2 days, 2 weeks or 2 months!

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View of Mt Isa from the lookout

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Looking across the town to the mine

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Laurance at the Lookout

I spent my first few days settling in and finding my way around the town and then Laurance, a fellow Solo traveller, arrived. He was born in Mt Isa, although left here about 60 odd years ago and was taking the opportunity to re-visit some of his memories. He’d left his campervan in Townsville and caught the train out – a 20 hour trip! I really enjoyed seeing the sights with him, and we drove all over the place as he tried to remember where he had lived and gone to school.

Our first adventure was to do the Hard Times Mine Tour. This is a mine that has been constructed at a cost of about $10million just to show tourists what it’s like below ground. I can’t show you my photos of this as we weren’t allowed to take cameras, but we looked a sight in our orange overalls, miners boots, hard hat with miner’s light and a big belt that carried our battery pack for the light. Here’s some pics I found that show a little bit about it. The guy on the right in this photo is Bill, who is a retired miner and was our guide for the day. We looked like the guy on the left in our mining gear. (although I didn’t have a beard!)

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View of the mine at the ‘Outback at Isa’ centre.

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We all got a turn at the air drill, which drills out the holes for the explosives to blast through to the next stage of the mine. At 8 o’clock every morning and night you hear the real mine blast through to the next level.

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At one stage Bill got us all to turn our head lamps off and I have never experienced dark sooo dark. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. If this happens to a miner they have to stop where they are and sit down because their supervisor knows where each of them is in the mine and if they don’t come back to clock out he knows where to go to find them. It would be impossible to find your way out without a light.

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This was a fantastic experience and if anyone is heading out this way I would definitely recommend that you spend the $49 and do the tour. It lasts for about two and a half hours and was fascinating from start to finish.

Our next trip was to the Underground Hospital, built during WW2 in case of bombing. Mt Isa felt threatened because of the lead mining here that was supporting machinery and transport needed during the war and felt the mine could have been a target. This didn’t happen, and everyone forgot about the underground hospital until 1977 when they found it by accident when the hospital was being re-built and expanded. It was declared unsafe so sealed again for another 20 years and then some of the miners took to repairing the timbers and making the structure safe again. Everything that was in this hospital during the war was still there and intact, so has been left in place. Smaller items were recovered and there are bottles of chloroform and other medicines looking just as they must have in 1945.

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Underground Hospital, Mt Isa

The hospital museum was part of the original hospital and this is where Laurance was born.

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Hospital museum, Mt Isa

He’s a little bigger now than he was when he left this maternity room way back then!

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Maternity room in the Hospital Museum, Mt Isa

Recently they moved the last remaining tent house to the hospital grounds and are in the process of restoring it. Tent houses were built in the 1930’s to cater for all the miners coming to town and Laurance had lived in one of these as a child.

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Tent house, Mt Isa, being restored

It made it really interesting for me to visit these places because of Laurance’s connection and it was a bit like a treasure hunt discovering the stuff of his memories. I’m sure he also enjoyed his few days here, but I’m not so sure he was looking forward to those hard seats on the train for his 20 hour trip back to Townsville!

I was glad I was going home to a hot shower and a comfortable bed.