Is there anything beats the anticipation at the outset of a long day's drive at the start of a serious road trip?
click on pix to see them big
Our first pit stop is at Oakey, for fruit salad, cold toast and hot coffee. Trip themes gradually emerge over time, but here is a big clue to one of them...
Back on the road – I wonder how many times I'll write that in the next few weeks – coal was making its presence felt by the Western Line Railway. Still no covers on the coal wagons, then?
By now the plains of the Darling Downs are so flat they are miraging.
Dalby is 210 km from Brisbane. I have never seen so many pieces of machinery – tractors, ploughs, backhoes, cultivators, harvesters, balers, excavators, rockbreakers, scrapers, loaders, dumpers, graders, you name it. My friend simply says: 'Don't like this. One frickin' big plant park'. On Myall Creek, a tributary of the Condamine River, Dalby is the administrative hub of the Western Downs as well as supporting a highly productive agricultural region and servicing an ever-growing resources sector. Cattle, cotton and coal. Signposts along the Warrego are all too familiar: Tara, Acland, Cecil Plains. Offices of the energy companies are in all the big towns, along with commercial property agencies, huge new industrial sheds 'with highway frontage', warehouses and workshops. This is a more pleasant view.
There is Miles more agriculture and mining development in the Western Downs. And big numbers still to do. Miles is on Dogwood Creek and was thus named in 1844 by my old mate Ludwig Leichhardt, but then renamed after a Queensland Colonial Secretary, William Miles. The early colonists went in for honouring bigwigs. More nice name signs and big silos follow.
We stop for a picnic lunch on the other side. From now on the vegetation is sparser, the road emptier and the towns smaller. The railway is still with us.
Advice for Outback drivers includes a warning to watch out for kangaroos active at dawn and dusk. We've seen several dead by the roadside for the past few hours, but onward from Mitchell – 587 km west of Brisbane and 176 east of Charleville – it's carnage. Unfortunately this is something we're going to have to get used to. We come across our first live one standing in the road at 3.45 pm, 28 km from Charleville. So much for dusk. We cut our speed, even though progress has been hampered by extensive roadworks. They add at least an hour, if not more, to our journey time today and we'd quite like to get there now.
But then, big excitement. My friend spots our first echidna in the wild, on the verge. As we screech to a halt and turn around, he's crossing the road painfully slowly: the image below is blurred not by his speed but my excitement. I anxiously watch the road for trucks. Do you think they'd stop if I stood in the middle flagging them down? Our spiny friend makes it but he's aware of us now; he stops and hunkers down. We have to take his picture quickly before leaving him alone so he'll head for the undergrowth and safety.
Finally, a welcome sign. I can't help looking back for a moment, however. We head straight for our accommodation.