An Adventure to the Cape
The Expedition of 1989 was an event filled trip to Cape York. There were two cars. Mum, Dad, Todd and I in the 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. Then One of Dad’s mates Reg and his wife Doris in the trusty Toyota Hilux dual cab. Dad decided that we were to drive up to the cape via the inland route of Longreach and Cloncurry… Then head to the gulf, before up to the cape, down by the Daintree and then straight back home via the coast road. All seemed like a good idea at the time.
A familiar sight - the Jeep broken again
Somewhere before Longreach, the electrical system in the Jeep had issues and we needed to have an unscheduled stop at Longreach for three days to have this fixed. I remember not being able to wind down the electric windows and the air-conditioning was not working… I feel sorry for Mum to be honest as she was stuck in the car with Dad and two boys! Being the patient and ever cool person, she always just went with the flow. On the plus side we had an added luxury of sleeping in a motel rather than camping.
King Junction Homestead
Back on the road we headed towards the Gulf of Carpentaria via Normanton. We then proceeded to take the Burke Development Road across the top of Staaten River National Park. At Gamboola, we turned left on a little dirt track that took us up towards the Pinnacles which would return us to the Peninsula Development road near Musgrave Roadhouse. This road was one of those dotted lines on a map. You know the ones you generally don’t take…
The plan was going well until we reached an abandoned house that was a part of the cattle station called King Junction. Unexpectedly, the road disappeared, and we had no idea where it was. As dad put it, we were “temporarily disorientated” for three days in the middle of Queensland…I have always been informed that we most definitely didn’t get lost… We knew where we were, we just didn’t know how to get where we were going! We searched to find the road for two days and finally one night as Todd was collecting wood for the fire, he stumbled across a track, if you could call it that. With renewed hope we set off the next day crossing the King River and heading north. We arrived at Coen with about 30 Litres of fuel left after being out of contact with civilisation for the past week. From memory, it was four days between passing another car.
King River Crossing
Coen presented its own challenges. The day we arrived it was pay day for the aboriginal community. We arrived in the morning and filled up with fuel at the only petrol station in town. This also happened to sell alcohol. I remember dad asking if he could get two cases of beer as it was Reg’s birthday. The attendant politely declined due to that fact that it was before 3 in the afternoon. The local police officer had restricted the sale of alcohol until after this time to control things a little. With a little Sassy charm, and some wheeling and dealing, we managed to get two cases under the proviso that they be carried out covered by a blanket and that we left town immediately.
While all this was going on, we meet a man who was needing a lift back up the road to his car. He had broken down and hitch hiked into Coen to get parts and needed to get back to his vehicle. Having a spare seat we offered him a lift. As things would have it, we started talking and it turned out that he went to Castle Hill High School where Craig, Todd and I went. He was in one of the first years it opened. Todd and I excitedly started asking him about teachers, and it so happened that our maths Teacher, Mrs Moncrieff, also taught him. He was travelling Australia and was in the process of writing a book on fishing in the cape. Being such keen fisherman, we proceeded to get out of him a “secret spot” for catching Barramundi. When we arrived at his car, he provided us with a lure that was “guaranteed” to work… (he clearly has never been fishing with a Sinclair!)
We made our way to the secret spot that he described and had drawn for us on a piece of paper. I remember him saying that we need to hike in the last couple of hundred meters as the road stopped. It was a great little creek that was lined with mature mangrove trees either side. The creek was about 5 meters wide and downstream to our right on the other side was a sandy riverbank. It was maybe 8 - 10 meters away. We stood on the bank of the creek under the Mangroves that were 4 meters in height. We had a nice little clearing of hard mud about 5 meters long, just enough for Dad, Todd, Reg, and I
Dad had the special lure and cast it out into the middle of the creek. The school of barramundi would split in half and swim straight around the lure. This went on for a while as we cast and retrieved the lure… Not one of them even entertained looking at it. As we were standing on the bank, we admired a beautiful white bird on the sandy bank on the other side of the creek. Not a moment later there was a splash and a bit of noise and the bird, but a few feathers, was gone to be replaced by a saltwater crocodile about 4 meter long.
Not a moment later there were four fishing rods laid on the bank and Dad, Reg, Todd and I were up in the mangroves. Dad had the gun pointed at the water and promptly instructed Todd and I to get down and move away from the banks… He and Reg packed up the fishing rods and we started the hike back to the car.
The Jeep Window
As we always did, on some of the longer road’s dad would let us drive. It gave him a break and we loved being able to get in a bit of practice. Today was Todd’s turn. Without licence, there was no need to ask Todd twice. We stopped by the side of the road and swapped drivers. I remember happily driving along sitting in the back trusting Todd’s skills until for no reason the drivers side window just shattered. Luckily, the windows were tinted, and the glass remained intact. Dad was in the passenger’s seat and had his window down. After stopping to understand what happened, we realised that there was a hole in the window from a bullet. It was lucky not to strike Todd. We did not stay there for too long and moved ourselves on rather promptly. To this day, we still don’t know what happened. Was it stray, or was it aimed, but we didn’t hang around to find out.
We had made it up to the cape and were travelling up the old telegraph road. This was the slow and rough way to the top. It was much more scenic and provided us with the ability to see most of the gorges and waterfalls that scatter the cap. We stopped at one and if you wanted to you could walk under the cascade of the falls and then behind them. I followed Todd under the cascade of water and misplaced my foot and ended up down a sink hole. Reg was a quick thinker and jumped on top of the waterfall to divert the water allowing me to be able to get up. I remember coming up and finding the side of the hole and searching for something to hold onto. Then, I was sucked under again, this time it was a much longer time. Eventually, after what seemed like a lifetime my head popped up as I sucked in a deep breath. I was dragged up out of the hole not long later. I had swallowed a considerable amount of water and was cut all down my torso from being dragged up against the sandstone wall of the sink hole. For days after I would continue to cough up water and had one hell of a headache. Still to this day, I don’t know how I didn’t drown. I can only thank Reg for his quick thinking.
Wenlock River crossing - Note the water draining out of the doors
Back on the telegraph road, we made it to the Wenlock river crossing. Reg went across first in the Toyota and had no issues. Then it was the Jeeps turn. Todd and I got out to take photos and videos of the crossing. The water was to cover the bonnet and dad had an old lilo that we had put in front of the grill to protect the engine. The crossing went completely smoothly, until we go to the other side. Seems that the cleaver people at Jeep thought it would be best to put the door rubbers on with the join at the bottom. Upon opening the rear door, half of the Wenlock river proceeded to drain out… The first day after that was okay, but then the carpet started to smell a little, then it stated to stink. By the time we got to the cape, it was unbearable.
Sassy at Cape York
Finally, we made the Cape! Now we just had to make it home!
Dry River bed camping
As we headed back down the cape, most of the smaller riverbeds were dry. One night we found a nice sandy riverbed to camp in. As normal, Todd and I pitched our tent and set the fire while Mum and Doris prepared another meal of three bean mix. It was just like every other night when camping. You don’t think about what is lurking in the darkness beyond your torch beam or the glow of the fire. During the night after we were all asleep, a sounder of wild boar came tearing through the campsite. I remember the yells of Mum and Dad telling Todd and I to stay in our tent. It didn’t last long, but it was enough to scare the crap out of all of us.
As we proceeded down the cape, we came across a small truck that had become bogged at a dry bed river crossing… Dad had the Jeep with it V8 engine. He was certain that he would be able to help the driver to get out… We set up the wire rope and moved back as Dad tried to pull this truck across the sandy creek bed… He will never admit it, but I don’t believe we even moved that truck an inch… The poor Jeep had no chance, but it entertained us and the truck driver for a while until he admitted defeat and gave up.
On the way home, we stopped at cairns to see the great barrier reef. We took the catamaran out to the outer reef for some snoober diving. This is where the Air bottle remains on the surface and you only have a regulator in your mouth. So, it is sort of like scuba diving and snorkelling together. Todd and I had one instructor and Mum and Dad had another… As we swam around the tour guide would show us interesting things. Todd and My instructor saw Mum and Dad’s instructor put his hand in a giant clam. The Clam closed and the instructor removed his hand without issue. Our instructor thought he would do the same demonstration, unfortunately the clam closed on his hand and he was stuck… Meters under the water with Mum, Dad and their instructor swimming away Todd and I had to work out what to do. I did what any child with a pool would do – I screamed under water…
Mum, Dad, Todd, and I returned to the boat and a little while later Mum and Dad’s instructor returned to the side of the boat and talked to Dad. Dad quietly picked up a screwdriver and handed it to the instructor and he dropped off the side of the boat. Not long later, both instructors surfaced, and we proceeded back to shore with one holding his hand in a large amount of pain. The story we got was that they put sand into the clam, and it opened to blow the sand out or sneezed, but I still have my doubts. Apparently, the older larger clams are not able to close entirely, so this is why the more experienced instructor did it to a large one… this is a photo of us after our diving and it is still one of my favourite photos…
Todd, Sassy, Neil, and Wendy
As mum always use to say, there is never a dull moment with John (Dad). I have this theory that trouble just follows him around. It might not always happen to him, but he is always near. That being said, I look back on our annual trips with fond memories. I consider myself lucky to have been able to do so much as a kid.
This was only one, we did this every year!