Flowers amongst the ruins

The historic town of Big Bell lies 27kms west of Cue. Now a ghost town in ruins, in the early 1950s the Big Bell gold mine had 470 men on its payroll, and the town supported over 1000 people. There were 160 houses, a big hotel, a picture theatre, and a dozen shops. Plus there were a further 40 houses, and 130 two-man huts on the mining leases.

The town was first established in 1936. Mine production was suspended during the Second World War so as to free manpower for the war effort leaving only 15 people employed by the mine in 1944. When the war ended the mine returned to full productivity, before ceasing production in 1955.

Now all that remains is the shell of the hotel, the shell of the church, and the concrete pads from a lot of the houses. Chicken wire, barbed wire, broken glass, and pieces of tin litter the ground. The wildflowers are slowly reclaiming the land that was once theirs. The town has been abandoned for as long as I’ve been on this earth. I definitely won’t see another 66 years, and I doubt that at the current rate of decay , Big Bell is likely to either.

The ruins of the hotel

Flowers are taking over with wild abandonment.

A billboard on the way out provided a bit more history.

The crumbling remains from the era of Gold, an interesting place to visit when in Cue. I only hope the township of Cue doesn’t follow suit.

Chasing Sun and Wilflowers – day 30

Cue to Mingenew

We left Cue at around 7.30 am, stopped for a cuppa in Mullawa, and arrived in Mingenew at about 12.30 pm. Fields of wildflowers stretching for miles into the distance show definite promise for tomorrow’s self drive tour of the special wild flower spots in the area.

We set up as quickly as we could, then took a walk into town to find the famous Mingenew Bakery. Meat Pies and sweet tarts for lunch – yikes talk about an unhealthy lunch. Tasted good though. The caravan park has fish and chips on for dinner too, so as my old mum would have said – “May as well get hung for a sheep as a lamb”! We’re nearing the end of this trip, and I’m just a bit over cooking.

We’ve planned out our route for tomorrow. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have some spectacular flowers to show you, so be sure to watch this space….

Chasing Sun and Wildflowers – day 29

Karalundi to Cue

A short travel day today of only 172 kms. The nights are getting cooler as we move further south, so it was nice to be able to lay in bed a bit longer. It was around 9am when we hitched up to leave.

We were held up behind a two of the massive sized mining loads. With our two way on we could talk to the escort vehicles, and listen to them as they controlled the traffic in both directions on the road – fascinating. Approaching vehicles were told long in advance to move off the road as two 5.5 metre wide loads were approaching. The escort to the rear of the loaded trucks, who we were directly behind, instructed us to come closer. We listened as he liaised with the lead vehicle in the convoy, who eventually told him there was a flood lane coming up so we would be good to go. He signalled for us to pass. Yikes! There wasn’t much room, and not a lot of length to the available road. I swore a bit, Paul kept calm. The guy in the support vehicle complimented Paul on his driving skills – yikes again! What if he wasn’t such a skilled driver, what if I’d been driving. Note to oneself, never offer to drive on the mining roads.

As we neared Cue there were more and more wildflowers lining the roads. In the next few days these are clearly going to be showing themselves in prolific abundance, so these were just a bit of an appetiser.

We arrived at the Cue caravan park at 11am. This has to be the best value caravan park around. Individual ablution cubicles, a good laundry, campers kitchen and TV room. Plus an outdoor fire pit with wood supplied, all for $20 a night (seniors rates).

Cue, once know as the Queen of the Murchison, now has to be one the saddest towns around. In the late 1800s Cue, a town built on gold, was booming, with a population of around 10,000. Such was the wealth of the area that some of the most grandiose buildings seen in rural Western Australia were built there. Many are still standing to be admired today. During its hey day the town boasted 11 hotels, but as the fortunes of the town began to fade in the early 1900s, so did the town. By the 1940s the population was less than 1000, and has continued to fall since. In the 2016 census only 194 people called Cue home.

Today there are rows of shops boarded up and falling into disrepair. If any town is deserving of being made into an historical, tourist town then Cue is. It makes me think of the book, A Town Like Alice. It’s a town I’d love for some wealthy entrepreneur to take a fancy too. Perhaps the old vacant hotel could be turned into luxury accommodation. A good restaurant with a good chef, and a couple of classy, countrified cafes. A country life emporium selling soaps, candles, dried flowers, and all manner of home wares, and an old fashioned, type of Draper shop but one that caters to today’s market. Put a museum in for some added interest, and add a few tours to some of the local places of interest. Ah, I’m dreaming again, I know. But it’s such a shame to see a town once so great that it was given the Royal title of, The Queen of the Murchison, and now it’s almost derelict. There’s potential here I’m sure….

Soon I’ll tell you about two of those possible destinations for tours – fascinating places.

Chasing Sun and Wildflowers – day 28

Newman to Karalundi

After getting fuel we were on our way before 8.30. Our destination for the night, Karalundi. An uneventful 4 1/2 hours of travel, with relatively flat vistas, but clearly we’re approaching some serious wild flower country. A few different varieties are starting to bloom along the roadside, but as yet there hasn’t been any wow! factor displays. The best are yet to come….

We’ve by- passed Karalundi several times before. This time we thought we’d call in and check it out. Rick, true to the two signs behind the counter, gave us a warm welcome and checked us in. With WA being so busy this season it was like a breath of fresh air to be greeted warmly without the tired, jaded reception that’s becoming usual.

Later in the day I was talking to the Kez (Rick and Kez run the caravan park). Kez was most informative when asked about the history of Karalundi. I hope I remember this all correctly. The place first opened in 1954 as a Seventh Day Adventist Mission for aboriginal children., and was closed approximately 20 years later. With government funding it again opened in 1987, this time as a boarding school for aboriginal children. The school provides education for children from primary through to secondary school, with a religious based (Seventh Day Adventist )curriculum. If I remember correctly the number of children currently boarding at the school is 37.

I’m not sure when the caravan park was added. It’s small, with power and water for approximately 20 vans, and a large unpowered area for many more. I gather It is slowly being developed and extended. I hope it doesn’t get too big, it’s perfect as it is. The ablutions are clean with roomy cubicles, a shower curtain to stop your clean clothes getting wet, and lots of hooks. The camp kitchen is more than adequate, with two big barbecues each with a hood, and much more. Someone had lamb cutlets sizzling under the hood of one when I looked, yum! Everything in the kitchen was spotless including the barbecues, and I know how hard it is to keep a barbecue with a hood clean. Two on site chalets are available, a one bedroomed unit that will sleep three (queen bed, and pull out single sofa bed), and a two bedroom chalet that sleeps five (queen room, two single beds in next bedroom, and a sofa bed). Both chalets have an ensuite. I didn’t see inside the chalets, but I’m sure they’ll have that same clean, homeliness that’s apparent wherever you look. A sense of pride is evident throughout.

We spent the afternoon giving the caravan a good clean, I think I have managed to get most of the red dust out. With clean sheets, towels, and the floor clean and free of dust and grit, I slept soundly overnight. I don’t know about you, but if my house, or caravan starts to feel grungy, I feel grungy too. Paul rolled out the awning and gave that a good scrub too.

There’s a cafe on site, as well as a few basic supplies for campers. From all of the WIKI reviews the Angus beef burgers are up there with the best. We purchased two yummy vanilla slices for our afternoon tea, and ordered two beef burgers for dinner, which Rick and his two children, Riley and Ali, personally delivered to our caravan. They were absolutely delicious. We’d spied a communal pit earlier in the day so we wandered over for the evening to join the other travellers. It’s always nice to sit around a fire pit and swap a few yarns and travel tips with fellow travellers.

We’ve left the hot weather behind now, so I’ve stowed my summer clothes under the bed, and hung up some warmer clothing in the wardrobe. We’ll be home early next week, so the washing can wait till we get home, and I think this will be the final big clean for this trip while on the road. Much as we love getting away on big road trips, it’s always just as exciting to get home again. But we have a few wildflowers to see first…..

Chasing sun and Wildflowers – day 27

Port Hedland to Newman

We left the caravan park and went in search of the auto electrician. Thank goodness for Sat-Nav the sea mist was thick. We could barely see two metres in front of us, so there is no way we could see any street signs. By 8.30am a new Anderson plug had been fitted and we were on our way. We didn’t fancy the planned alfresco breakfast in the thick, damp, mist, so headed south out of town, leaving the mist behind us. The photo taken below was on the way out of town where the mist was lighter.

It wasn’t long before the flat, barren land close to Port Hedland gave way to the stunning ranges and glorious colours that signified we were nearing our planned destination of Mt Robinson.

We were in Iron Ore country using roads frequented by road trains, and heavy mining transports. Twice we were shunted off to the verge by the support vehicles to make way for gigantic loads.

It was just after midday when Mt Robinson came into sight.

We found a lovely secluded spot and were looking forward to enjoying a few hours exploring and photographing the surrounding countryside. It was hot, so we opened all the windows to keep the van cool, and put the awning out. We don’t usually take the time to put the awning up in overnight spots, but with a long afternoon in front of us, it would be worth while. I cooked Tilly’s dinner, then we sat outside with a glass of iced water, eating our lunch time sandwiches. There were some wild flowers, purple mulla mulla, nearby, so I wandered off with my trusty phone camera, leaving a full glass of water on the little table attached to my chair.

The wind blew up and with it the red dust. It was strong enough to blow my chair over, breaking my water glass as it hit the ground. Tills was looking like, ‘red dog’, as he was hot so chose to lay in the red dirt rather than on his mat. An hour of that breeze and the inside of the van would have had a layer of red dust over everything. Once red dust gets in, there’s no way you can get it out, and nothing will age a van faster. The few hours of peaceful solitude enjoying the Pilbara landscape suddenly lost its appeal! We rolled up the awning, and left Mt Robinson behind, setting off for the overnight caravan spot at the Newman’s visitor’s centre.

Picturesque it isn’t, quiet and peaceful it isn’t. But it’s clean. We paid our ten dollars fee, and set about washing the red dust off Tills. We were next, a shower to get the red dust off ourselves, and over to the pub for a cool drink and their Wednesday night special of steak and chips. Dinner was ok, nothing great, but we didn’t have to cook it, or clean up afterwards. So that was yesterday’s travel. That extra 109 kms will shorten today’s trip considerably, so I’ll have time to give the van a bit of a clean before we leave. It’s starting to feel grungy…..

Chasing sun and wildflowers – day 26

Broome to Port Hedland

We were hitching up to leave Broome when we noticed that Anderson plug for the caravan stability control was missing, with the casing that holds it battered and bruised. Whoops, the Mr forgot to plug it in after our last overnight stop, and clearly it had dragged along the ground as we travelled along. Oh well, ya get that sort of thing when caravanning. Plans were revised quickly with an 8am appointment at an auto-electrician in Port Hedland the following morning.

it meant a slightly longer travel day than we’d anticipated, and it meant a $55 caravan park fee in Port Hedland as apposed to a free 24 hour roadside stop. We’ve only ever driven through Port Hedland before, so we made plans to get the Anderson plug fixed first thing the following morning, and then we were going to drive into the town for an al fresco breakfast, and a quick squiz at the town before travelling to our next nights destination. We had left Broome at around 8am, and were set up in the caravan park before 4pm.

With the caravan park right next to a beach, and a couple of hours of daylight left we took Tills for a long beach walk.

The Sand Bubbler crabs clearly enjoy the deserted beach. I’ve never seen such extensive patterns before.

Busy little Sand Bubbler Crabs

Then steaks cooked on the communal barbecue with salad for dinner, a look at the news on TV, a few pages of my book and an early night.

Too darn hot!

I quite like the heat, but I’m sure it’s hotter up here than it usually is at this time of year. Mr Tilly’s not doing well in the heat. He’s off his food, and is having trouble keeping things down. We took him to the vet a couple of weeks ago. Seemingly nothing to much to worry about, but the vet put him on a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice for a few days to settle his stomach. Paul’s in town as I write this fetching more chicken breasts and rice.

We were due to leave here Wednesday, but have decided bring that forward to head for cooler weather sooner. We’ve spent today packing up, and will leave tomorrow morning. It’ll take a couple of days to get to milder weather, and then a couple more days and we’ll be feeling the cold. Once we hit the cold we’ll be in wild flower country. I expect internet cover will be hit and miss for a few days, but I’ll post details of the journey when I’m able to. So watch this space…..

Johnny Chi Lane

A great place to start any visit to Broome is to visit Chinatown, and walk down Johnny Chi Lane. The arcade runs between Dampier terrace and Carnarvon Street, and is easily found by its distinctive, Broome styled, entrance at either end. If you allow yourself a couple of hours to meander down the twisting lane you’ll emerge with a good insight and appreciation of Broome’s history, and how it evolved to be the popular tourist destination it is today.

In Broome’s hey day Johnny Chi ran a long soup kitchen from the site. Today the lane has been rebuilt in the style of architecture that typifies broom, and named to honour Johnny Chi.

Twenty story boards are spaced along the lane providing good insight into Broome’s early days. They are definitely worth taking some time to read.

There’s a mix of souvenir shops, clothing shops, art shops etc in the lane to browse through.

A free to use art table with supplies is located in the middle of Dampier street end of lane, and alongside it a second hand book cart. The second hand book cart sells donated books with the proceeds going towards animal welfare for the town. Broome doesn’t have a good reputation as far as animal welfare goes!

By the time you’ve finished browsing the shops, and reading about Broome’s history you’ll be in need of some refuelling. I’d suggest a delicious fresh juice or smoothie from Chi Mayi. The Green Reviver did the trick for me.

Broome has a colourful history, which coupled with its unique ecology explains why it’s grown into such a popular tourist destination. Some people, like myself, come here and fall in love with the place, a love affair founded on the amazing weather, the unique ecology, and the history. Broome has the ability to transport one back in time, to almost feel the buzz in ones bones of the frontier town Broome once was, to feel the deep, deep sorrow when learning about the cruel practice of Blackbirding….

The indigenous history, the pearling days, the wars, and the mung bean days off the 1970s have all played a part in making Broome what it is today. Some people hate Broome, seeing it only as an over priced, over populated touristy town. I’m sure those people have never taken the time to take a slow walk down Johnny Chi Lane. If they had, the history of Broome would have planted its seed, a seed that when fertilised with the unique colours and ecology of the surrounded landscape, and watered with a cooling dip in the turquoise waters of Cable Beach – well how can one help but fall in love with this little piece of paradise. I certainly have. What a pleasure it is to come here again, and again, and again….