The cabins in which we stayed for the night provided all the comforts of modern living: bathroom; shower; beds with linen; TV and a kitchen equipped with all the pots, pans, silverware and tableware you could ask for. We cooked and ate our breakfast, and continued the journey from the outback towards Australian east coast.
About 12 km out of Windorah after crossing the bridge over the Currareva Waterhole on Cooper Creek we turned off the road to appreciate the delicate serenity of the place: quiet pools; a large white egret wondering without hurry on the other bank and a pelican taking off slowly to fly somewhere on its daily business.
Then we are back on the way. The road here is smooth and sealed, but you can still encounter huge roadtrains – three trailers loaded with farm animals on four levels. Compelling to watch, but when overtaking such animal hauling 62-wheelers the most noticeable thing is the smell, and there are other things that can fall or leak off the trailers, so keep your windows rolled up!
246 km from Windorah lies the colourful south west Queensland town of Quilpie. Most of the streets in Quilpie are named after birds. An excerpt from the “Discover Quilpie” brochure describes what Quilpie is most well known for, opals:
Australia supplies 96% of the world’s commercial grade opal and claims it as the official gemstone of the country. The boulder opal of Quilpie has a backing of ironstone, which makes it one of the most beautiful and durable of all opals. Opals are cherished for their unique combination of fiery colours and dazzling dancing lights. It is the only gemstone which can naturally split light into all the glorious colours of the rainbow.
For the excitement of visitors and tourists alike some of the non-conditional ore is dumped about 1 km west of town. You can go there looking for the precious stone. A friendly lady who was spending time with her children gave us the basics of the process.
Opal deposited by water hides inside some of the boulders. By gently tapping away the stone you can see if there is any opal inside. For easier identification dampen the stone with water, true opal will reveal itself with a flashes of colour.
We were breaking the stones with mad determination, and surprisingly did find some nice pieces.
In the town we paid visit to the Quilpie post office, and to the Sunrise Opal Mines store. The owner of the store, Mark Hodges, is a very pleasant and friendly person (like most Australians are), he patiently explained the characteristics of different stones and showed his collection of gems and petrified artefacts.
Quilpie is as far west as the Great Western Railway Section A goes, and for a while we travel alongside the tracks on our drive east. We pass through the tiny town of Cheepie, pause in Charleville on Warrego River, then on through Morven and Mungallala, before stopping for dinner in Mitchell – a colonial town turning tourist, on the banks of the Maranoa River.
The chief in the Mitchell Cafe is a very charismatic fellow who takes delight in singing and explaining how his food is prepared in a simple but correct way. He can’t stand how some places ruin their dishes, and if you did not enjoy your meal, he does not want your money. For the record, we did not ask for our money back.
It’s already dark, but we press on through Amby – a town that marks the eastern boundary of the outback, through Muckadilla to Roma, where we sleep in a motel. Not one of our best choices in motels, recollections of the night include a mouse that was helping itself to our rubbish bin and noises of trains and large trucks passing, a far cry from the serenity of the outback.
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