DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
There’s great scenery and history on this North Queensland trek that weaves along the watercourse of the mighty Burdekin River.
Our journey starts on the Bowen
Development Road, at Belyando Crossing.
A gravel road leads north east to the historic mining town of Mount Coolum.
Luke Reynolds, a jackaroo from Yacamunda station, discovered gold there in 1913, but Thomas Coolon was the first to peg a claim in 1914. The town of Mount Coolon was originally called Koala, but it was renamed after Mr Coolon.
We’re not sure if the renaming was because of his initial claim or because of what followed a few years later. After a claims dispute, Thomas shot and killed four men, before turning the weapon on himself.
The town’s mining business continued until the 1930s, but union trouble was brewing and came to a head in 1935. A six-month strike ensued and neither side seemed keen to end the troubles. Mining never achieved its former greatness and operations ceased in 1939.
Today, Mount Coolon has several old buildings and some remnants of the mining efforts. The pub is very hospitable and offers free camping and showers.
From Mount Coolum our trek heads
north for around 100km, along a graded gravel track, to a lookout over the huge Burdekin Falls Dam. This dam was completed in 1987 and supplies water to Townsville, as well as to the Burdekin River Irrigation Area.
A bitumen road winds steeply down to the dam wall and an undulating concrete road runs across the base of the spillway. It’s a slightly weird feeling driving across it, knowing that the wall is restraining around four times the water volume of Sydney Harbour!
On the hill above the dam wall is a compact campground with good facilities.
There are no boating restrictions and there’s a boat ramp, but the water is often muddied with sediment long after rainfall. Fishing can be tricky and boating may be hazardous, because the opaque water hides submerged rocks
A bitumen road connects the Dam with the Flinders Highway and on the way passes through another historic gold-mining town. When gold was discovered in Ravenswood, in 1868, it became a significant inland town. By 1875 there were 2000 hopefuls searching for gold and the railway reached the town in 1884.
There were once 42 hotels in Ravenswood.
Ravenswood’s boom years were over by 1910 and World War I virtually finished off major mining efforts.
Today there are several surviving buildings in very good condition, including the Railway and Imperial Hotels, post office, court house and church.
Mining relics include brick chimneys and rusting machinery.
Our next stop on the Burdekin Country trek is Greenvale, north of Charters Towers, on the Gregory Developmental Road. This is another mining town, but a much later one than Mount Coolon and Ravenswood.
Greenvale was the scene of a major nickel mine from the 1970s until the 1990s and, although the major mining has long since finished, is the site of several rare-earth mining activities today. It’s a thriving little town, with a camping area and an historic pub, the Three Rivers Hotel.
According to one of our colleagues, Mark Allen, there was some ‘discussion’ among the engineers, during the 1973-74 Wet Season, as to where they should locate the required three bridges to cross the rivulets of the swollen Star River.
Following the argument, a grader operator at a Thiess Brothers construction camp near Greenvale, wrote and performed a song for his workmates.
In the years that followed, this song became an Australian country institution – covered by Slim Dusty and John Williamson – immortalising Greenvale:
‘From Townsville to Greenvale we’re building a line
Through the ranges and gorges to the great nickel mine
The long days are dusty and hotter than hell
And that’s why we all worship Three Rivers Hotel.’
The man who penned it was Stan Coster and the song’s name was ‘Three Rivers Hotel’. It was a tribute to the many characters that were involved in building the Greenvale railway line that ran all the way to Townsville.
Another must-see on this Burdekin
trip is the lava-tube deposit at Undara. It’s an easy run up the bitumen from Greenvale and is a very well organised tour business. Guided tours are the only way to visit the lava tubes and although they’re expensive – around 60 bucks per adult – the two-hour tours are professional and informative.
Undara has a good fresh-air restaurant as well, if you want a break from camp cooking.
From Undara you retrace your steps down Route 63, as far as the turnoff to Valley of Lagoons, to the east. Alternatively, you can get there from Greenvale, if you’ve previously done the lava-tube visit.
Valley of Lagoons was a pastoral lease until very recently, when it became a flora reserve, under the administration of the QNPWS. This pristine site is now protected and if visitors are in any doubt that they’re not welcome they’re assured by very rude signage that suggests we’re all trespassers. Surely less provocative wording and some explanation are in order.
The beautiful Burdekin River
lagoons can be viewed quite easily from the road that passes through the property.
Ludwig Leichhardt and his team were the first Europeans to explore the area, in May 1845, during the famous and ill-fated expedition from Moreton Bay to Port Essington (now Darwin). Leichhardt was very impressed with the area:
“About five miles north-west by west from our camp, we discovered an en extensive valley with large lagoons and lakes, and a most luxuriant vegetation, bounded by blue distant ranges, and forming the most picturesque landscape we had yet met with.
“A chain of lagoons connected by a reedy brook followed the outlines of the tableland, along the foot of its steep slopes. Water, grass, hills, mountains, plains, forest land; all the elements of a fine pasturing country, were here united.”
Leichhardt uses the term ‘valley of the lagoons’ several times in his book.
The track passes two notable Leichardt sites and then crosses the Burdekin River many times as the road runs northward through pastoral land.
Our next destination is Blencoe
Falls and although it’s not on the Burdekin River, it’s definitely in Burdekin Country.
Blencoe Falls is in Girringun National Park, approximately two kilometres north of a confluence of Blencoe Creek and the Herbert River. From an elevation of 520 metres above sea level the water drops 320 metres, in an initial vertical fall of 90 metres, followed by a cascade for another 230 metres to the base of the gorge.
The east-running track to the Falls is signposted just north of the Minnamoolka property.
The track starts off smoothly, but becomes progressively more rutted and rocky as it heads east. The sections around the Blencoe Falls camping area are particularly rough and eroded, as is the long descent along Kirrama Range Road to Kennedy on the Bruce Highway. It’s not softroader territory!
An alternative to this coastal plunge is to retrace your tracks and head north to Mt Garnet.
Hope you enjoy our suggested Burdekin River trip!