Mataranka, Heart of the Never Never

Termite Mounds, Eagles, Springs and Freshies

Leaving Mount Isa in the rear-view mirror, we head west across the Barkly Tablelands into the Never Never. The first things to notice are that the roads are even straighter, and the road trains even bigger, often with four trailers!

At first it’s more grassy plains and red soil with the occasional re-tread, shed from a passing truck. I nod off for quite some time. After a while termite mounds start appearing. I’m intrigued and look out the window.  We saw some very big birds, ” Brolgas”  said the Silverback.

As the kilometres pass the mounds get more frequent until they are every few metres. There are millions of them!  Clearly not all termites are created equal. Some have little pointy mounds while other species have massive structures. There are way more termites than anything else in the Never Never. When the era of mammals is over, the termites will surely rule!

 

The road is long…
Brolgas, Australia’s largest flying bird, stands 1m tall.
Termites of the Never Never

We cross a time zone and the folks put their watches back. It’s half an hour and fifty years jokes the Silverback. I’ve no idea what he meant!

We spent a night at Banka Banka Outstation. A popular campsite with a happy hour bar and a campfire. I got to play with a number of kids, which was fun, but didn’t get invited to join them at the poddy-calf feeding. Next to us in the campsite was a kelpie who worked on cattle stations. She and her boss slept under the stars on the back of the ute. How cools that!

Old sheds at Banka Banka

There’s lots of roadkill and lots of birds of prey. We see Crows and Kites, but best of all are the Wedge Tailed Eagles. According to the Sparrow-phone these can be up to a 0.8 metre long with a wingspan up to 2.5 metres. They prey on anything from rats and rabbits to small Kangaroos! Special Enzo note: watch out for Wedgies!

We arrived at Mataranka. It’s old, tired and dusty. Population: 350.

The area is famous for its thermal pools. Water from the Great Artesian Basin wells up into pools here forming the start of the local river system. The Great Artesian Basin is a gigantic underground lake. Rainwater seeps through the sandstone at a rate of 1 to 5 metres per year. The basin is 1.7 million square miles in area and up to 3000m deep. It lies deep underground, under about 23% of the Australian continent. Water is forced to the surface under pressure providing the majority of Central Australia’s fresh water supply. The whole cycle from rain to waterspout takes, [you’d better sit down] from several thousand to two million years. Yep, water coming out of the artesian bores today fell as rain about the time humans first appeared on the planet!

The folks chose Bitter Springs Cabins and Camping Park because we met someone at the Banka Banka campfire who recommended it. After all the desert, it’s a treed oasis adjacent to the local springs with a stream where people swim and drift on rubber rings. The kiosk has ice creams and home-made frozen mangoes, the owners are friendly. It was rapidly becoming an Enzo top spot, until I saw the crocodile signs!

 

Lovely swimming hole, but wasn’t allowed in because of the sign

The manager told us a couple of ‘Freshies’ lived in the waterways but were harmless. [Freshies are Freshwater Crocodiles]. He said, “If one gets in your way just pull its tail and it will run away!” “How long are they” asked the Silverback. “About three metres” said the manager. As a result of this conversation I spent the next two days on my lead, wearing the escape proof harness. The Sparrow went drifting in the creek, but I stayed home with the Silverback. The springs were just in the National Park, so no dogs allowed – who am I kidding, I’m not much bigger than a chook and Freshies eat chooks for breakfast!.

A funny thing happened on our way out of the campsite. The Sparrow took the Silverback to see how pretty the drifting creek was. While they were there, an empty rubber ring drifted by!

Looks ominous!

Silverback footnote 1. This is for any anxious residents of Birmingham, England who read this blog: Freshwater Crocodiles mainly eat fish, birds, reptiles and the like. They have a very narrow snout and swallow their prey whole. Hence they only eat small things. A big one could just manage Enzo but would probably prefer a frog. They fear people and generally avoid contact. Risk of injury occurs when people corner them or threaten them, leaving them no choice but to fight for their life. Hence it is inquisitive boys and macho-men who are most at risk from them.

Silverback footnote 2. For the same readers. Do not confuse Freshies with Salties [Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodiles]. These live across the tropical northern coastline of Australia. Luckily hardly any people live there. They are larger than Freshies, with a broad snout. They are supreme predators that can grow to over 20ft long. When hungry they take whatever comes their way, up to the size of a wild bull! We hope to see some later, ideally from the safety of a very big boat whilst Enzo is in Doggy Day Care. Every year in Australia one or two people are bitten by a shark and generally appear on the news to tell their tale. Every two or three years someone gets taken by a Saltie and is never seen again!

   

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