23-Oct-2002 -- Yesterday we completed 28°S 150°E, and had celebrated at a local pub in Goondiwindi, Queensland, (The Victoria), and went to bed early at the Town House Motor Inn.
Today we set off for 29°S 151°E, confident in our recent success at 28°S 150°E. Today’s confluence point is just south of Texas (a town), near the Queensland/New South Wales border, a mere 100kms away.
Maybe those rum & cokes weren’t such a good idea last night, but we managed to struggle awake by 6am and set off just before 7am. Checked out of the motel, went back to find 2 pairs of my missing glasses *sigh*, top up with fuel, and Mike, Sean and me (Doug) set off into another beautiful day in sunny Queensland. Just a bit of a breeze blowing (a portent of things to come).
To recap from 28°S 150°E, we are: Mike & Sean Gilbert (father & son) and me Doug Roberts; I’m driving my 80 Series Toyota Landcruiser, navigation is by Garmin Etrex Legend (a recent new toy) some maps, and the skills of Mike (who’s into Marine Technology and knows all about not hitting sandbanks in a boat.
Just leaving Goondiwindi heading for the Bruxner Highway, we made our first navigation error. How were we to know that the Main Roads Department had rerouted the Bruxner some 30kms south since the maps that were in my Garmin were produced. These maps are the default ones you get for Australia when you buy a Garmin over here; they are old! (new Aus release out ‘soon’ they tell me). In the end after several indecisions we decided to trust the highway signs and sure enough the Garmin dutifully drew out the track of the new route for the Bruxner as we arced to the east.
Notwithstanding the upgrading and rerouting of the Bruxner, there are still some 7kms of it that are not bitumened keeping conservative old me down to a speed of 80kms/hr on a rough, dusty road.
The Auslig maps we had with us, indicated that our destination at 29°S 151°E could possibly be reached by following a track alongside Copper Creek which left the Bruxner just after a small town called Yetman. We stopped briefly at Yetman for our ‘last meal’, as Mike put it, admiring the commemorative stones placed at the Picnic stop by the Rotary Club (but one for a ‘Variety Club bash?!). Still, it’s nice to have these roadside stops, complete with BBQ plates and toilets. I made a small donation towards its upkeep.
Travelling onwards, 30 minutes later we arrived at the Copper Creek exit (south) and there was the dirt track alongside. The road soon became severely corrugated; we crossed several cattlegrids, and passed a number of homesteads & feral goats wandering in the bush. We also ran the gauntlet of one cattlegrid which had 2 drums alongside which produced 2 fearsome, snarling, yapping dogs as we approached. Poor things were chained up there as a security alarm, it seemed. The day was warming up to about 28°C but very low humidity.
According to the GPS, we were now only about 4kms away from the Confluence Point. We had previously established that the confluence was on the top of a small hill. In fact, the map even showed a surveyors triangulation symbol there; surely there must be some sort of track up there.
We turned off the Copper Creek track within 4kms of our target on what looked likely to be a private track; soon we came to a locked gate in a fence line that ran east-west. No one to ask, so we kept driving along the fence line; not too rough for a 4WD, now at a tangent to the Confluence Point; we stopped when the fence line was at it’s closest – 2.75kms to go! We debated the walk, but it was a hot day, so drove through another shut but not locked gate to continue along the east-west fence. No luck, the track ran out so we came back to that gate and parked.
More debate about trekking the remaining 2.75kms; Mike was in favour of driving around to the other side of the hill, although the terrain was lower there implying a longer walk upwards if there was no track. So we donned our walking gear, jeans to fend off scratches from the bush (and snakes?), boots and plenty of water in 2 rucksacks. Plus the camera gear, of course.
Over the fence we went, and followed the GPS pointer. The first 10 minutes weren’t too bad walking almost along the line of the (bone dry) Copper Creek bed. The breeze had died. But as we started upwards, we had to contend with thicker bush, sometimes pushing our way through and climbing over fallen branches and being careful not to lean on trees which were almost all dead and brittle. Bit of wildlife in here, we saw several families of ‘roos bounding away from us, but no snakes. Sean didn’t have any jeans with him, but protected his legs by pulling up his socks. These young fellas don’t feel pain anyway!
Everything was tinder dry, and a cautionary thought entered all our minds about fire hazard, although Mike had previously checked the horizon for any sign of smoke. Onward and upward, scrabbling across broken branches, and gradually getting steeper. However, we kept going and, after 2 hours with frequent stops for refreshing water, had reached the ridge of the hill where we thought our point was and could see for miles from the hilltop. The town of Texas was visible in the distance. We now had the breeze back, stronger now, coming in from the west; the cooling effect was welcome.
The GPS now advised us, unfortunately, that we had only covered 1.5kms horizontally in those 2 hours and we still had 1.25kms to go south, but no more climbing, we thought.
We walked another 250m along the ridge top to find the terrain descending again. Rats! Looks like the Confluence was on the next hill, involving a descent of about 50 metres then back up the other side. We walked a little further to confirm that, then decided we’d had enough. We were all pretty tired by now and had to get back down yet. So we reluctantly decided to claim this as an attempt. Took some photos, had a brief rest and set off back.
The story now gets much more exciting so keep reading! As I’m typing this, I’m hoping the DCP people will publish the lot, as a cautionary tale to others. Here’s what happened.
As we walked back along the ridge, the wind hit us from the west again. No breeze now, this was a strong wind. The weather was changing. To our dismay, the horizon was no longer clear and was draped with a thick yellow haze, or was that smoke? It seemed along way away, but our pace quickened nonetheless. Mike was leading using ‘trackback’ in the GPS and could also travel faster than me (well, he is younger . .).
A quick glance to the west again and that yellow haze seemed much nearer; just in case it was fire, albeit miles away, we increased pace yet again and clambered down the slope, jumping over logs (careful, don’t need a broken leg up here) and pushing through the thicket. The wind was stronger and the haze nearer. What if it is fire?!
Slight panic set in and, with Mike calling to hurry we continued down the seemingly endless slope. Mike had experienced bushfires in Victoria before and was alarmed. In a strong wind, some of these fire fronts can travel at 50km/hr. We were all tired but proceeded as fast as we could; I was the slowest and had to stop to wet my parched mouth. I was conscious that Mike and Sean were waiting for me to keep up. Sean, bless him, shuttled back and forth between Mike and me with the water bottle. Luckily my legs are the best part of me, and I had little trouble keeping my feet. I was just tired and dry. Near the bottom of the hill, nearly there we thought; it seemed like the yellow haze was now on two sides of us and we could feel the wind blowing hard. So, now pretty scared, we ploughed on, Mike calling to hurry, the ground levelled out, and cleared of bush a little, another fence, and a few more minutes there was the car ! We had taken just 30 minutes to get off the hill, but it had seemed to take forever.
We scrambled over the final fence, I found the car keys, threw the gear in the car (also stupidly parked in bushland), and floored the pedal, dust flying everywhere from the back wheels.
As we emerged back to the main dirt road, it dawned on us that at no time had we smelt smoke, although looking back at the hill, it was now completely obscured with the yellow haze. Well, I’ll be damned . . .it’s a dust storm the like of which none of us had ever seen, especially the speed at which it had approached. (See note on the dust storm at the end) Relief set in and I drove at a more leisurely pace back to the bitumen on the Bruxner Highway, passing the dogs from hell on the way. I stopped, looked back at the hill we had climbed; it was totally obscured; I took a photo anyway.
The only damage seemed to be sheer exhaustion, and we had made a good attempt to get to just 900 metres from the Confluence point. Satisfied that we could log an attempt, we drove on toward the nearby town of Texas.
A cautionary corollary - I wish that the adventure had ended there; I would appreciate if the DCP editors would leave this next bit in as cautionary advice. (Ed - sure will, Doug!)
A few minutes after reaching the Bruxner and heading further east, we turned off toward the town of Texas and stopped at a picnic stop to recover properly. Jeans off, shorts back on, try to cool down; some drinks and a sandwich.
But I didn’t feel any better, even after a 15 minute rest. I still felt winded and had a slight pain in my chest; indigestion I told myself.
OK, back in the car, let’s go home. I’m now driving north toward Inglewood. I turned toward Mike and said, I think I’d better stop at a chemist – I seem to have a chest pain that seems like indigestion. So I parked in Inglewood, a small town about halfway between the larger centres of Goodiwindi and Warwick. The Chemist was shut for lunch but a newsagent’s had some Quickeze which I swallowed. Something then told me this was no indigestion so I asked the newsagent where the nearest doctor was. In a small town, nothing is far away so off we went to the Surgery and I was examined By Dr Col Owen.
To cut a long story short, it wasn’t too long before I was walking (just) into Inglewood Hospital, where they quickly got me to a bed, and wired me up. By now my chest pain was excruciating and I was sweating profusely. I must have lost consciousness because I learned afterwards, that no sooner had they finished wiring me to the Cardiac machine that all the alarm bells went off. I suffered a severe heart attack, which required paddle zaps on 2 separate occasions to keep me going. I shall be forever grateful to Vanessa, the senior nurse, who operated that machine that saved my life that afternoon.
I was in Inglewood Hospital for 2 days in intensive care, then another 5 before I was able to go home. I now face a long series of cardiology tests but that’s a small price to pay for my life. I’m writing this the day after being discharged from Inglewood and have seen my doc today to start that process.
My wife, Juli, was driven from home by our friend Chris (Mike’s wife) to the hospital that night (some 400kms) to see me. I am really sorry for all the distress I have caused her and others. I’ll probably do another Confluence Point though, but be much more careful.
Lesson to be learned:
We probably shouldn’t have been on that hill in that dry heat which sapped our strength and our fluids. Luckily there was no fire, and the dust storm was a pretty unique event, visible from satellite. A cold front had lifted several million tonnes of dust from the dry interior of Australia and blown it across a 1500km front to the eastern seaboard of Queensland. If you look carefully, at the satellite shot, you can see us running ...
Consider whether your fitness will cope with an emergency before setting out.
Ed - Doug provided a lot more information on the dust storm, which was one of the largest on record. The drought conditions across Australia have left much of the country vulnerable to wind erosion.