It was four hours from Karumba to Lawn Hill, and on the dirt towards the end of the journey, about 20 minutes from our destination a loud POP came from the back of the car. Shit. The rear windscreen had shattered. I covered it with a tarp and gaffer tape, and we finished the track to Adel’s Grove.
Hmmm… what to do… there was a ‘minor repairs’ workshop, and they said I could get it fixed in Mount Isa. Bugger. 4.5 hours in the wrong direction.
We had intended to head North, back up to the Savannah way and travel along the more remote, 4WD only sections that took you through Limmen National Park, and along the Roper River to Mataranka, our first stop in the Northern Territory and the lovely hot springs we’d heard so much about.
Not with dust finding its way in through the rear ‘window’ however. I called ahead and lined up the repair, then we settled into the grove, and boy was it lovely. Adel’s Grove is a private campsite that’s nestled on Lawn Hill Creek, right on the edge of Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park.
The Creek itself was surrounded by paperbark and pandanus trees, along with throngs of bamboo that helped create a lovely shady environment. In fact the whole campsite was like that. They also had free tea, coffee and cold rain water in the open air restaurant, where they also had mobile phone reception – superb!
The Grove itself was originally settled almost 100 years ago, by an adventurous botanist called Albert de Lestang. It’s actually a rather sad story, and another very Australian one, of isolation, triumph and tragedy.
Born in Argentina to French parents, Albert travelled the word before finding his calling in Queensland’s outback. Like everyone who visits Lawn Hill, he would have been amazed at the oasis he’d stumbled across.
He took a leasehold on the Grove and got to work, planting and nurturing such an incredible array of plants and trees that eventually, he provided seeds to botanical gardens all over the world. He poured his life into the property, built a home, a study, even a shop for the odd visitor. Then sometime in the early ‘50s the entire complex was burnt to the ground, including all of his research papers and most of his beautiful garden.
By now he was too old to rebuild. The Eden he’d created was gone, and understandably, he lost heart. Old age took hold and he finally passed away at the age of 75, in a home in Charters Towers. A sad story. But also a rather magnificent one. I’ll bet there was no one else in that old folk’s home who had created their own Garden of Eden. Well done Albert.
Anyway the campsite that’s there now, is lovely. And the National Park next door is extraordinary.
To get an idea of the Lawn Hill it’s best to keep in mind how remote it is. We took four hours to get there from Karumba, that was about 12 hours from Cairns, and there wasn’t a whole lot of anything along the way. It’s well and truly in the middle of nowhere, or, the Australian outback if you prefer. Dry. Dusty. Red. Flat.
Yet in the middle of this vast, dry, nothingness, there’s a slight rise in the land. And through the middle of this rise, there’s a crack, creating red cliffs that descend to an uprising of ancient, underground water.
It’s remarkable. Beautiful. And as we slowly floated down on a canoe, it was peaceful too. Even the girls calmed down a wee bit to take it all in.
The water comes from an area to the West of Lawn Hill called the Barkly Tablelands. It’s an enormous flat plain that extends for 600kms or so, and it’s made entirely of sandstone. So every year, when the wet season arrives it pours all over the tablelands, and the rain filters through the porous sandstone coming, to rest on a layer of granite. Gravity pushes it downhill until it the granite rises, and the water wells up in Lawn Hill Gorge.
Because there’s such a large catchment area the water is there year round, and they reckon some of the water that’s pushed into the Gorge has been underground for thousands of years.
Needless to say, it’s a very special place.
We had a lovely time chilling out, canoeing, swimming, doing a few hikes and catching up on Katie’s schoolwork. Three or four days however, and it was time to get the rear windscreen replaced – so, off to Mount Isa.
I had properly secured the tarp to the back now, but dust was still finding its way in. It was dirt roads for about 2.5 hours, and when we pulled in for a break, I wandered round the car to do my check. The surf board was gone! Doh!
I had jumped out after 30 minutes to tighten the straps, as it usually settles into the camper trailer a wee bit. But obviously this time it had moved again, and because I couldn’t see anything out my rear window I never knew anything was amiss. And now it’s gone. Shite.
It’ll be a very unusual sight, and a nice find for some lucky traveller in the middle of the outback. Hey ho, off we go.
Mount Isa wasn’t much to write home about. It was an outback town that was big enough to have a Harvey Norman’s, and it exists because it sits on one of the world’s largest mineral deposits. For almost 100 years, they have been pulling lead, silver, copper and zinc out of the ground, and it’s still massive.
Unusually, the mine and the processing plant are right there in the town. Wherever you go you can see the enormous smoke stack that occasionally has a little curl coming out of it. No matter how much monitoring they do, I’m sure living there long term can’t be good for you.
Two nights however, was fine. We got an en-suite camping spot, which meant you had your own toilet and shower, and parked right next to us were a family who lived close to us in Sydney!
We all got drunk one night and felt a little worse for wear the next day.
Then we got the car fixed, and it was time to hit the road.