Last time we covered this area of Queensland, we were on a slightly looser schedule. We had around 3800km to cover in 4 weeks. This time, we are aiming to cover around 8000km (give or take – our way home is still undecided) in the same four week time frame. The result being, more single night stops, and more early starts. We were on our way out of Charleville around 7.30, with the little bugs snuggled up sleepily in their seats, muesli bar in hand,staring out the window in that not-asleep-not-awake state of zombiehood. At home, muesli bars are very rare treats – we keep our school snacks simple and as unprocessed as we can – so to be give one FOR BREAKFAST, well, that was quite possibly the coolest thing ever.
A couple of hours down the road, we found a little rest stop somewhere between Augathella and Tambo. Deserted at that time of the morning, we had plenty of freedom to run and play and stretch little legs that had just woken up. With Daddy on bacon and egg duty at the camper trailer, I was left to
herd cats entertain the children. Out of the toolbox came the squishy beach boules set (or the two thirds of it I could find), and we set ourselves up to play. A random lump of bitumen for a target, one step back for Beetle, two steps back for Butterfly, three for Boy2 and four for Bear. We were all getting thoroughly trounced by Bear when we blessedly heard the call that breakfast was ready just as we lined up for another game. Beetle took the opportunity to make a stand, and walked right up to the target and dropped his ball fair on top of the target, amid cries of “mummy! Bub bub is CHEATING”. Yeah, sorry dude, he’s still cute enough to get away with it!
It was a quiet ride from there up to Barcaldine, with the cheater baby giving up on this crazy road trip business and going to sleep until we stopped for a play (for them) and a coffee (for us). Then we were back on the road, Longreach bound and Bear on Qantas sign spotting duty. Just before we left Barcaldine, and lost phone service, I called and booked Bear and Daddy into the last tour of the day – our first deadline of the trip. We had around half an hour up our sleeve, so it was going to be tight, but doable.
Once the sign was spotted, our attention was turned to aeroplane spotting. Children 2 to 4 all looked, predictably, out the window up to the sky. Bear, on the other hand, was all over it, and trained his gaze straight ahead. His hollers of “plane!” were met with not excitement, but confusion as three little necks twisted to press faces against windows, madly scanning the sky for what their brother saw – eventually our giggles and assurances that the plane was on the ground got through to them, and at that point, you would think they had never thought to look elsewhere, if their cries of “look Bear! A plane!” were any indication. Fake til you make it my loves.
Booking in at the caravan park took longer than expected, having arrived at peak hour in peak tourist season, but we managed to score a spot, and had just enough time to unhook the trailer and open the tent before Bear and Daddy were due over at Qantas, leaving myself and the three littles to finish setting up, have a quick play, and then go for a walk. We checked out the water temperature at the pool (quite pleasant), had a look through the camp kitchen (nice little setup) and scoped out the cost of the washing machines (4 x $1 coins), before collecting our ensuite key from reception and slowly dawdling back, chatting about the caravans we saw along the way. A couple of “My Little Pony” card games later, our some-day pilot and his chauffeur arrived back, full of tales of their visit, and almost as excitingly, an unexpected encounter. Bear was beside himself telling us how he bumped into his best friend from kindergarten/year one, who had moved a few hours north a couple of years back, and by a delightful fluke of fate, happened to be holidaying in Longreach and visiting the museum at the same time. This boy of ours, he values his friends and is unendingly loyal to those he cares about, so bumping into this very dear friend at one of his favourite places, made for a wonderful day.
Within an hour of getting back, however, our boy went from full of stories to flat and listless. His tummy hurt. He was tired. He pulled his pillow out and laid himself out on the sandfloor. Hungry, we assumed, and tired after a busy day, but he took two bites of dinner and took himself off to bed – and then it started. Beetle’s tummy bug from Nindigully was on the move. An hour later, Butterfly started. Never have I been so thankful for an ensuite site!! By midnight, they were both sleeping peacefully, and the worst of the bug had passed – though I continued to toss and turn, sleeping the fitful doze of a mama on nursing duty, waiting for Boy2 to join the casualty list. But we got lucky, and the bug went no further – pretty amazing to have a 50% escape rate for a large family, especially one sharing a camper trailer!!
We briefly considered an extra day in Longreach with the convenience of the ensuite site, but everyone appeared to be on the mend, and so we were on the road and Winton-bound by 7.30. Around an hour and a half north of Longreach, we figured it was just about the perfect spot for our first break, and Boy2 being the dinosaur nut he is, had been talking about busting Banjo and Matilda (the two main specimens at Australian Age of Dinosaurs) for months, so a return visit was non negotiable. We arrived just in time for the first tour of the day, and after the first talk, we split up – Daddy and Boy2 heading over to the fossil lab, myself, Bear, Butterfly and Beetle staying for morning tea at the cafe. A few bites of their cake, and then the low wall around the rock garden was much more appealing. It wasn’t exactly hard to take, sitting in the sun, one eye on the children, the other on the wide open plains of red dirt stretching out beyond the fenced lookout. The only downside was in the two years since we’d last visited, I’d forgotten how the wind whistled across the plateau. Next time, remind me to grab jumpers out of the camper!
I sat sipping my coffee, and realised it was actually 30 June. The end of the financial year, and for the first I me in a long time, we had daddy with us. All day. Not going to work at ridiculous o’clock, and us counting the hours until 5pm. I’m sure fellow financial-based families can understand our longing for close of business on 30 June!! So despite the rush and stress of the weeks before, so we could get away early, it was so nice to kick back and raise a cuppa to another financial year done and dusted. We also took this time to sneak into the shop and grab a few things for Boy2′s birthday, small things that would make him happy but were able to be smuggled into the car without him noticing or taking up too much space. We ended up choosing an orange drink bottle, and a little stationery set with a journal for him to write all his discoveries in. Just like their mama, these smalls of ours are suckers for stationery and notebooks!
In Winton, our fuel stop took a bit longer than planned when the people on the other side of the pump used the wrong number and paid for our fuel instead – I did offer to just pay for theirs instead, but it turns out where our fuel bill was $150, theirs was only $50. When we grab fuel, the mister mans the pump and then I go in to pay. I’ll verbally confirm with him the pump number, and he’ll reply with both the number and how much we owe. It had always felt a bit superfluous, but this incident proved to me the value in doing it this way – if I wasn’t directly behind this woman, and she didn’t hear me ask for the pump she’d just paid, she would have paid $100 more than she should have without realising. The way we do it, I have all the information to know we are indeed settling the right account! <\end tangent>
We had been debating which way to go, and with the fuel payment confusion, I’d forgotten to ask at the servo, so when we rang the Richmond caravan park to book in, I had a quick yarn to the owner (who is the first person in all our travels actually ask if our trailer was a soft floor or hard, so he could put us on the right kind of site. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to switch sites after being allocated a concrete pad site), who told us they’d had rain recently and the back road wouldn’t be in great shape, so the highway through Hughendon it was. This also gave us the chance to stop at the Musical Fence and grab a super quick (super super quick) photo of Bear at the drums for a school project, and then we were Richmond-bound and on a deadline again – what Boy2 didn’t know was, we were booked into a Digging At Dusk tour.
We had just enough time at Richmond to ditch the trailer on our site and head to the tourist info centre, to pay for our tour and get sorted. We handed out all the “palaeontologist in training” lanyards, and then I crouched down to Boy2′s level to look at his with him. We read it together. “Do you know your dinosaur digging that you love, sweetheart?” “Yes?” He replied, not quite sure where this was going. “Well, this lanyard means that we are going out real dinosaur digging. Not for plastic dinosaurs, but for real fossils.” You could see him processing this information, and realisation dawn on his face as his eyebrows headed for his hairline and his eyes grew so wide I had legitimate concerns about them remaining in his head. “For REAL?! REAL dinosaur digging?!” Oh friends, it was so perfect. His excitement was contagious. He checked over and over to make sure I wasn’t joking. Then out came Dr Tim, the resident palaeontologist and we were off. Those blue eyes were still as wide as could be, as he strained forward in his seat to see where we were going. Out at the quarry, we had a quick talk explaining what we were looking for, then went at it. Little man had the best evening, turning over rocks and amassing a pile of fossils to bring home. We culled the stash before we left, and ended up with some fish jaw, turtle bone, clam shell, fish mash, little squid and, ahem, “copralite”. Better known to giggling small boys as dinosaur poo.
We had two nights at Richmond, so Wednesday we wandered down the main street, having a look around and went to Kronosaurus Korner, the museum half of the tourist centre. I’ll write up a full review later, but this was one of the best attractions along the dinosaur trail. We started with a small documentary then wandered through the exhibits, talking about the different parts of the fossils and what we were looking at. Beetle of course ended up bored and restless, so daddy took first shift in the kids corner, and then we swapped, me on baby duty, him on dino duty. Following the museum, we grabbed a few top up supplies, and then made our way back to the camper for lunch and naps and washing (no such thing as a holiday from chores!!). In the afternoon we made the most of our rest day, walking through the bush tucker garden and along the lake to the playground and water park. With me, I carried my main camera (a Nikon D700 with a 24-70/2.8 zoom lens), a little pouch containing a travelling art set gifted by a very dear friend and an A6 diary – one of a trio, affectionately known as #gravytrainjournals (I will talk more on these on my craft blog). The children played as I painted and sketched and photographed and we all generally basked in the contentment of a lazy afternoon of quality time. As the shadows grew longer, and the worst of the heat of the day eked away, we strapped on boots and loaded the car with water bottles and children and Boy2′s brand new geological pick axe slash hammer, and headed back out to the fossicking ground for an hour or two. This time we picked a spot near where two ichthyosaurs had been found – one only a month ago – and got to work. Boy2 was in his element – whereas the evening before the splitting tools were restricted to adults, now we were on our own, he went to town and dug away, splitting stones, scraping rubble and generally having a grand old time. Sadly there were no impressive finds, but he had a blast, which was the main goal.