Winton to Mount Isa

Mount Isa is around 468km from Winton. I camped overnight, visited the opal and Dinosaur museum ($5). I found out that Australia supplies 97% of the world’s opal’s. I didn’t know that. It is fascinating to look at the amazing blues and greens in opal. Yet their value is not comparable to gold, although in my view a very beautiful stone. Apparently the cellular structure of the opal’s enables the reflection of colour, absorbing the spectrum and reflecting colours such as blue and green I was told by the guy selling the opals that reflection of red light is vary rare. There were a few there with red streaks. It is fascinating to see cross sections of the stones with these amazing arrays of colours. I remember getting a pink opal for my 12th birthday. I was very excited at the time.

I found out that this area was dated at around 250 million years old. I felt that in the carvan park as I saw some large round boulders. In the town of Ilfracombe they had a display of round rocks. I felt it as very old and picked up some rocks. In the dinosaur museum they had some additional exhibits of fossils (plants and animals), rocks and meteorites. Apparently in 2004 the people of Winton had heard like a sonic boom and a bright glowing projectile flying over. Two years later fragments of a meteriorite were found. It was very black and indented. People were terrified at the time. The museum was very interesting with a lot of perspectives of life in Winton. I think about the Australian pioneers like Burke and Wills, I saw on the way a monument to them. I don’t think they had much in the way of knowledge of the land but I do admire the courage to explore. When you see how vast this country is, you have to be a courageous character.

I headed off from Winton around 10am. The roads are very straight and are in good condition. This is good for fuel economy. On the drive I am just marveling at how the countryside changes every 5km. You may have pastoral land, few trees, to bushy round gums that are medium sized providing good coverage of the land, to taller trees that are bright green. I even started to see termite mounds which are bright red. I think the biomass of termites is higher than all physical animals on the planet. Will check that, but am sure it is significant. I noticed some camels on the horizon, I thought of the dinosaurs, but yes very different. I just imagined these giant creatures roaming these open plains. Amazing to consider.

I saw long patches of land that was burned and it didn’t look like control burning. I just saw black carbon to the horizon. I’ve never seen anything like it ever. I read today that the conditions are ripe for bushfires (grass fires) as the debris left from the flooding across Queensland has deposited much fuel for fires. I was stunned to see burned out paddocks for 20km. It is such a vast land. I am seeing many kangaroos on the road, but much more before Winton. After Winton they are still being killed but I felt less so, I think they are roaming wider areas and hopefully not that many close to the road. They are attracted to the lights. I kept thinking there must be ways we can protect them. Aside from the fact they are the national symbol of this country, they are gentle creatures and it is a horrible way to die. Many have head injuries. They are all shapes and sizes. I notice the crows come down and the hawks. Yesterday I saw the Wedgetail eagles, they are huge. All the birds flew off as I tooted except this large eagle. I am hoping it will fly in the opposite direction. I see it hop with its strong legs and then fly off. I noticed the hawkes are not as fast or smart as the crows. The crows are really clever and they are up and off away from traffic.

My respect for indigenous people is growing. I realize the mastery of the tribes across such a diverse land. Biodiversity stands out for me. It is extraordinarily diverse. I am stunned at the changing landscape. It is not like the climatic conditions are changing that radically. It is typically dry arid conditions, yet the plant life is so different. I wondered about Pangea the supercontinent and maybe what I am seeing is biodiversity from this original continent. Then again, after learning about the dinosaurs there was a giant inland sea and apparently around Uluru (Ayers rock) there are fossils of sea creatures. So the environment was subtropical, alive with forests and life originally. So what happened for the climate to change? Anyway, I have many questions about this which I will explore. I am not an environmentalist or biologist so I don’t have the deep knowledge.

The petrol prices were around 1.60 per litre which is very expensive. I decided to wing it and test my tank. I had a quarter and it was only 98km to Mount Isa from Cloncurry. I need to know how the economy does in case I find myself low on petrol. It turns out I had plenty. I snuggled behind a police 4 wheel drive and thought I can always flash my lights if I start to run out. I know the reserve tank should be pretty good, usually they have around 30km in them. So it is more caution and the concern at being stuck on the side of the road. I can’t get mobile reception between towns so if I need roadside assistance I will be relying on the goodness of people to stop and help out.

As I drew closer to Mount Isa I was surprised to find more red rocky mountains rising up. The land was more undulating and it became greener. You could see more and more forests. I was reflecting on all the minerals in the land given how lush it was. I thought about Mount Isa Mines which were the primary money source for this town. The mining industry is big in Australia and perceived as essential for the national economy although the politicians are finding themselves with conflicting interests. On the one hand the mantra has always been economic growth and commodities growth, on the other hand the environment is an issue. However, the opposition are now supporting farmers rights opposed to the coal seam gas mining whereby coal companies are accessing pastoral land and tapping into the gas. There are concerns it will destroy the underground water and affect pastoral lands. The Liberal Naional Party here are wanting to uphold pastoral rights and yet they are also supportive of the energy industry. So a fracture is occurring in the Liberal party from within. This is interesting given who they perceive they represent. So Mount Isa is an important town as it is supplies and supports a local economy and national economy.

As I drove into Mount Isa I could see the tall chimney which was the Mount Isa Mine. The town seems to revolve around this. It has a few mountains of coal visible from the city centre. There was no accommodation as the rodeo was on. The town was fully booked out. I got in around 4.30pm.

I felt to try Rotary and luckily got on to the Rotary President. I am a Rotary Scholar so I am treated as a Rotarian, they are obligated to assist me. I asked if I could pitch a tent at a Rotarians house or get a bed for the night. He kindly got onto a volunteer. She and I spoke and I met her at Subway her shop. She came in with bright red hair. I sat and waited for her. She then had me follow her to the showgrounds (where rodeo was). I parked and then met her at the gate. Her job was to monitor 400 volunteers, quite a big role. The rodeo went from the 12-14th August and was bannered with Rotary. Apparently it has been going for 60 years. She gave me a wrist band and I was allowed to go in and watch. It was my first rodeo.

I noticed all the indigenous people walking around, sitting on the grass and going to the rides. There were fewer of them in the stadium. I wondered if that was because the prices were $30 per day. I went in and watched them cowboys riding the horses. I spent much time looking at the horses, I was looking at how the animal was behaving. I could respect the skill of the cowboys holding on and their riding skills, but in the mind set I am in, I have a respect for the animal. I perceive them as equal to us in relation to a right to freedom of life. So for me, I no longer feel they are here for our use. Although the reality is they are used by humans. What gets the horse to buck is some rope annoying them at the back. I can see it is potentially risky if the horse lands on a rider when he falls on the ground. The crowds were mostly older men but quite a few women. A community event it seems where people are traveling in from the surrounding countryside.

They had a big screen up and were able to re-run the experiences that were particularly good. The announcer was continuously revving up the crowd. I decided to have a walk around and check out the people. They were all ages and some kids running around. The blokes stood with their partners having beers or in groups. Many were wearing the cowboy hat, so they definitely have a culture of country not dissimilar to the United States. I wondered about the copying. I also noted some reference to Clancy of the Overflow (Australian folk lore). He was an excellent horseman in the Snowy Mountains (near where I live in Canberra). He was very courageous and apparently he went down a steep mountain that no-one had the courage to go down. He became a legend after that. So I am guessing this culture came from the rounding up of cattle. It is sheep and cattle country so they would have a lot of experience on the farms (we don’t call them ranches). I also noted whilst driving the very long fencing that has been done. For me I am looking at how humans divide property but also I can respect the hard work of the farmers given they perceive this is a way to make a living. I think it has been lucrative but with increasing flooding and droughts, I am sure many are finding it harder. Certainly, historically the large landowners had the properties broken up which makes me think probably because of environmental conditions and markets. I also felt the greatest environmentalists should be the pastoralists, as they have a vested interest in stable climate conditions. Yet often they have negative reactions to ‘greenies’ I heard one guy say he hated the green party. He was a guy at a caravan park in Winton who had been a pastoralist and engineer. Sadly we often see people as ‘us and them’ rather than taking on board different perspectives and looking for a win/win. Such is the way of the world right now.

Anyway, back to the rodeo. I sat with some locals who were volunteers. Two girls a few months off 18 they told me. One had grown up in Swan Hill in Victoria the other was from Mount Isa but preferred to live at her Aunts in the bush. I asked them about life in Mount Isa and how people get on with the indigenous people. She said they do get on but the aborigines fight amongst themselves. She said the families are big some with 20 members. So if you hurt one of them you take on all of them. She described for me a case where a white woman ran over a drunk aboriginal man and apparently when she got out of the car to help him, his family and friends came and she was badly hurt with glass. I was sad to hear that. She said there is a tribe that live out of the town who are living traditionally and they are not involved with the town aboriginal people. She said they preferred to live autonomously. She said,in surprised way, that they were more peaceful then the others. That didn’t surprise me given the alcohol issues for the people. I understand most indigenous people across the world can’t handle alcohol very well. Europeans have had a lot longer to adapt to this drug which is so unhealthy. It is nice to know some indigenous people are going back to their roots. This is important given the uncertainty of the future, they will survive.

I also found out there is a lot of transitory workers in Mount Isa. I saw many people from Asia, India, Africa and I suspect they are not paid much but they have employment out at the mines. The company flies people from Darwin week on week off. I think it was around 1500 people working at the mine. Quite a sizeable workforce spending in the town which generates their economy. The rodeo was sponsored by Mount Isa Mines and other sponsors. So they are central.

Again, I heard people tell me they love country life. One lady who lived in Brisbane said that people don’t look you in the eye whereas in the town they do. I did actually notice people were not looking at me in the eye. I just wondered about that. However, this lady said she had been in Mount Isa 2 years and will be there for 7 years. Her husband got work at the mine so they will live there. One of her children came with her the other son went to his father. The father she tells me is experiencing fatherhood for the first time. She said he says to her that her son eats a lot. He is expensive. I smiled thinking of my brother eating my mother out of house and home. Apparently when she left her husband she raised the two children alone. She said she established a routine and they had to do jobs, if they didn’t they would be penalized. She said she worked full time, so it had to work. Then she met this new man and life sounds like it has become easier. She seemed happy.

I spoke with the Rotary lady who was hosting me. I saw her around as I went for another wander. I watched some country musicians perform, an indigenous lady sang, wow what a voice. I also noted the indigenous people speaking I could hear such beautiful voices. I am fascinated by them and keen to clown with them. I went and sat again at the rodeo and saw bull riding. The bulls I notice look harder to ride but when the cowboy comes off I note the bull may charge him. They had clowns there (yay) my favourite part. An indigenous man was playing the clown with a big hat. He told a joke to the kids about you can pick your nose and your friends, but don’t pick your friends nose. I laughed. He went into the crowd. When the bulls are going for it, he and a few others distract the bulls, so even bulls are distracted by clowns – looks universal.

I went back to meet with my host. I asked her for her address as I needed petrol. She didn’t want to give it, I noted the fear there. I tried to find a petrol station and was to meet her, but alas couldn’t find it. She had left the rodeo when I got back so I rang her. She gave me her address. I felt some pressure from her to not delay her as she was tired and had work to do. When I got to her house the other guest there was from Brazil, his name is Rodrigues. He was staying with her as a Rotary exchange student. She commented on his long 20 minute showers and running out of hot water. I noted they are on town water not artesian water. I thought I must be quick. So I jumped in and went as fast as I could. She offered me a drink of bourbon and coke, but I only had a few sips, it was strong. I didn’t want it to keep me awake. I spoke with Rodrigues who was from San Paulo, I know this is quite a violent city. I noted he was very bright and apparently he had studied drama. He told me about a famous clown in Brazil and gave me the website. So I may get some tips. The host had to go out again and I then settled myself down to sleep. I noticed her 3 German Shepherds were barking a lot and I found the sound just went through me.

My host came back and turned on the light and tried to sync in her big TV with her bedroom one. She then went and talked on the phone for a few hours. I have to say I was feeling stressed by the noise of loud talking and dogs, so I tried to take my blow up mattress and sleeping bag into the other room. I get in there and the dog is scratching at the door. I can’t hear her talking which is good and think maybe I can sleep here. But then the dog starts barking really loud. So I figure I can’t sleep here. I go back to the other room where she is talking in her room. Then I hear the tv going. I laugh as I can’t believe another night of little sleep. I took a sleeping tablet and was wondering if I would sleep. I decided to put on the Byron Katie audio on my ipod. This is all about accepting what is, not resisting or feeling stress. So I thought learn to just accept the reality as it is. I should be able to sleep anywhere even if noisy when I am at peace. So I used this experience as part of my peace work. I didn’t feel she was considerate of my needs, but at the same time I felt I have to accept it without getting frustrated. So this is the discipline. Try not to judge people. I listened to Byron Katie for quite some time and was very tired. I turned it off then heard this lady speaking with her daughter’s boyfriend. I found out in the morning I wasn’t dreaming they had spoken until 1am. Fortunately shortly after that I went into a deep sleep. I was a bit worried if I didn’t sleep. I am the only driver so I have to be alert, can’t be sleeping at the wheel and I have a 600 km drive the next day. However, staying there was important as my money is very low. I can’t afford another caravan park, I have to find places to sleep for free to conserve money.

The next day I got up at 6.45am to make sure I didn’t hold her up as she said she had to leave by 7.30am. She made it clear I had to go when she goes. She has 3 dogs and I didn’t fancy being bitten. She asked how I was I said fine, no point going into it. I had a little walk around her kitchen to stretch my legs to see photos of her lovely children and husband. Apparently he had passed away 3 years ago according to a memorial. I am sure it is not easy for her, I felt the restlessness in her energy and felt she was sad. People do the best they can given their situations, often we don’t know what is really happening for others. She was kind to let me stay on the floor. Unfortunately I have no time to spend with her and I found she wasn’t open with me as I am a stranger, so I just let it be. People are going through their processes as they are meant to. When you’ve been with someone a long time, being alone can take a lot of adjustment. Took me 8 years to get used to it now I love it. I felt she was living in fear and I felt for her. I am not afraid of people and do feel a high level of trust, but my life is different and I have tested myself so many times. Moreover, I’ve found most people are good hearted.

Anyway, she let me out and I headed for MacDonalds for a cheap breakfast. I noted all the paper that came with the bagel and coffee, I am not comfortable with the throw away stuff. I am constantly surprised by business-as-usual but this is the way it is, until it changes. I noted in the newspaper a conference held on the Sunshine Coast indicating to kids they are superheroes everyday, the focus was environmental. I felt for the challenge ahead of children. What I liked to hear about this conference was giving kids a leadership role. I think this is important. About 400 kids were put through workshops on waterways, soils and environmental protection. So that was good news. Yet we see the environmental degradation through coal seam gas, farming techniques, over cultivation, pollution, manufacturing and chemicals. We also see the attempt to curb the use of carbon technologies with the incoming carbon tax, yet the forces in the opposite direction are still at the fore. What is still evident is so many interests working against each other. We are not cooperating for the common good. It made me think of Cuba and peak oil and the comment made by a Cuban expert that westerners always fight the change because they ‘own’ something, the socialists tend to see a social goal rather than self interest and are conditioned to work together. I think this is the strength of a system which values the whole. However, socialist systems end up with dictatorships which work against personal freedom. As Byron Katie teaches the freedom is within our own minds when we question our beliefs, and as I am learning, do not believe our own thoughts. That is where the real revolution begins I feel. As I change the world changes, this is a fundamental truth. The focus is on changing the self and this is where 100% responsibility is. When we blame others it just disempowers and is pointless as you can’t change people. The reality shifts when we do. I really find that fascinating.

I found out in the paper that in Queensland the winter was bitterly dry and frosty. So the climate change is evident and the drought will intensify. I found out on my journey that the drought had been going for 8 years. I didn’t know that. I also read that after the massive floods in January the Hinz dam (Brisbane) has dropped to 53% (no rain in 7 months) so we may find the summer very dry and this means more fires. If the farmers don’t get water then their crops fail and so on. So we all have a very powerful interest in the environment. I keep finding myself turning to indigenous people, they have the real knowledge. When we are ready we will turn to those who know how to live in harmony with the planet. Conditions are here to teach us that. I looked around the crowd at the rodeo and wondered about collapse and how they will survive. They will help each other out, but we will need to learn that inner peace and harmony with the natural world. The physical environment only changes when our inner environment changes from chaos to peace. In truth peace is the real goal of our lives.

Anyway, I am in a little town of Camooweal on my way to the Northern Territory Border. I will probably stop on the way to Tennant Creek. I will be teaching at a school 4 hours out of Tennant Creek, so it will be interesting to see how the conflict resolution program goes. They are having problems at their school. So will see if the clown can do some magic here.

Mohandas Gandhi

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”