From Adels Grove we drive through stations and mustering action, dust whipped into a frenzy by restless cows as stockhands loaded them onto road trains. Dust, and fires and dry, parched soil. Today we are going straight to lucifer’s patch. Hell’s Gate.
I open and close more gates in one day than in my lifetime I reckon, as we pass signposts pointing to Kingfisher Camp and the Bowthorn Station. We are headed first to Doomadgee. It’s a dusty old track ahead. And fires, plenty of burning-by-the-side of the road fires.
The lush haven of Adels Grove is a distant memory already.
A taste of aboriginal communities
Doomadgee is an aboriginal community situated on the Nicholson River between Burketown (icy-pole stop 1 for the day) and Hell’s Gate. While visitors are allowed to enter what’s known as the retail area (petrol station, federal government run supermarket and Doomadgee Roadhouse), permits are required if we wanted to visit the reserve.
We’re starting to see signs and fliers now advising us that towns like Doomadgee are operated under Queensland’s Alcohol Management Plan and that heavy penalties apply.
We’re what’s viewed by the Plan as “bona fide traveller’s’ travelling on the Savannah way, so we stock up in Doomadgee, and throw a lap of the town. It’s just hosted the Rodeo on the weekend, there’s a bit of action outside the police station, a few worse for wear fellas lurching around outside the supermarket, and several kids in akubras, torn shorts and wide grins – it gave the the Squids their first real insight into modern aboriginal communities (we could hear their little brains working at breakneck speed to take it all in).
Wallets drained (its not cheap to shop up here and petrol is $2.05 per litre) we were headed towards Hells Gate Roadhouse to set up camp.
So this is what hell looks like
The remote Hell’s Gate Roadhouse is on the fringe of the eastern escarpments of the Barkly Tablelands and sits slumped on a dusty roadside, looking out towards a silent airstrip (the “International and Domestic Airport” the sign mockingly declares).
The sometimes bloody history of the cattle droving era gave the landmark its name as it was the final police escort point for drovers and settlers heading for rich pastoral lands of the Northern Territory.
After Hell’s Gate you were on your own.
We weren’t completely on our own as we arrived at Hell’s Gate.
Twenty rogue cows gazed at us somewhat haughtily, and a few fishermen scoffed down chico rolls and talked about complex baiting processes. So this is what hell looks like.
Inside the lovely old chap was a saint as he tolerated the kids slow icy-pole selection process, while regaling us with stories of the area, the departure of the cook (“I only sell chico rolls and dim sims which I can microwave now) and how good the fishing is further up the track.
Like I said. Hell.
I admired his vigilant battle in keeping the roaming cows off his one small parch of green at the front of the roadhouse, and was rather freaked out by the dusty camp-kitchen esky out back – in the shape of a coffin. Needless to say, we did not camp here.
We decided to risk it and head for richer camping lands. May The God of Travellers watch over us, and keep the devil from our passenger doors.
We pull out the Minties in celebration as we cross the Northern Territory border sometime after Hell’s Gate. Covered in graffiti, others have clearly found their own unique way to celebrate the milestone.
Bush camping in good company
On dusk we pulled into Calvert Crossing bushcamp.
A lovely little free camp spot just after a river crossing, with the shouts of an excited aboriginal camp mob wafting across the valley. We were welcomed by David and Ann, two eco-friendly grey nomads who shared a beer and a campfire yarn with us.
God bless ’em, they also provide Little Miss Squid with her first encounter with the Simpson and Day Birds of Australia bird book. This fires up her sketching imagination and starts her on a quest to own the book for herself.
Check back in later, I’m way out yonder and there’s not enough juice to upload photos!