At 240 meters above sea-level Mt Morgan is an old gold mining town that dates back to the 19th century. It is slightly off the beaten track, the closest regional city is Rockhampton which is 38 km to the north east. Most tourists on the main highway, the Bruce Highway passing through “Rocky” are too much in a hurry to get to the Great Barrier Reef than to make a detour to this old gold mining town. There are no modern shopping centers, just a post office, a few general stores, bakery and as in any old gold mining towns, a good selection of pubs and local characters who inhabit them.
I pulled up out front of the Victoria hotel. While most of the buildings in Mount Morgan are old wooden buildings, the Victoria Hotel in the middle of town is built from brick. There’s a small bar at the front of the hotel. As I pulled up out front, a few drinkers sitting by the open window of the bar gave me the thumbs up and came out to talk about Hewie and their classic cars. Most of them had indulged in a few too many drinks. I asked one of the sober drinkers, who introduced himself as Jim.
“Why is it that everyone is slightly under the whether while it’s just gone midday?”
“Happy hour starts at 11am. Since the mine closed most people here are on the dole. Before midday is about the only time most of them can afford a drink or two” he said.
I ventured into the bar and enquired about a room for a few days but the accommodation section was under renovation. I headed down to the Leichhardt Hotel and secured a room for two nights for $25 a night.
Mining ceased in 1990 but had begun in 1882 and it its hey day Mount Morgan produced a total of 240 tonnes of gold, 55 tonnes of silver and 360,000 tonnes of copper. The old mine is on the hill behind the town. The chimney stack still rises up from amongst the rusty iron roofing of the old crushing sheds. The gold mine started from the top of the hill, they just dug down into it from the top. Now all that’s left is a large creator which has filled up with rain water. The problem is that the water is very acidic. When the gold is brought to the surface at mines, it often also brings the mineral pyrite. Unfortunately pyrite reacts with oxygen and water to form acid. This acid can seep through the earth, even dissolving metal as it goes. The problem in Mount Morgan is that the acid is seeping out of the mountain and into the local river. Furthermore the big pool of acid water lies above the town. The worry is that one day a cyclone may hit the town, dropping enough rain to fill the pool of acid to overflow down the hill and through the town.
But since I’d only booked in for three days at the hotel, I wasn’t about to let it worry me. Next morning I headed down to the local tourist office located in the old railway station building and booked myself on a day tour of the old mine.
When trains stopped running, the line up from Rockhampton was torn up in 1988 leaving just 4 kilometres in Mount Morgan which is used to run a tourist train hauled by a small Hunslett steam locomotive which was built at Hunslett in Leeds and began service at the Mount Morgan Mine in 1904. The engine worked in the mine until 1947 when it was retired. In 1995 it was restored before returning to the rails.
I arrived just as all the crew were arriving to fire up the loco and tourist office staff were starting work. When I enquired about the mine trip, they said it’d be a leaving little later today as they’d all had a big party the previous evening and were feeling a little hung over and weren’t sure who was going to arrive for work.
“In the meantime you can go for a ride on the steam train while you’re waiting for the mine tour.” the woman behind the tourist office counter told me.
I managed to get in the way and ask lots of tourist questions while they were firing up the loco. With a belly full of steam they coupled it onto the two small carriages and after picking up a few more tourists we chugged out along the 4 kilometres of track. Before returning, the driver and his fireman stopped the train at the end of the line to give us a brief history of the loco and the railway.
Arriving back at the station, the mine tour guide had arrived and was waiting for his tour guests to arrive back from their steam train ride. The highlight of the tour was the view down into the mine, now a crater of blue acid water. It certainly looked inviting for a swim but you probably would emerge lacking a good few top layers of skin.
After the mining tour I headed a short distance out of town to the Mount Morgan showgrounds as today was the first day of the annual Mount Morgan agricultural show. Not that I have a keen interest in prize cattle and poultry, but this show had something that being a city and coastal dweller I’d heard of, but never had the chance to see - a boxing tent.
The tent was run by a company that called themselves Bells Touring Stadium. I arrived to find a bright orange stage set up well above the audience. There was a compare and either side of him were his five boys. These were the boxers who were going to challenge the wannabes from the audience. Two of the youngest boxers rang the bell and beat on an old base drum to warm up the crowd. The compare then stopped the noise and introduced himself and his troop of boxers. He then lifted up the right arm of the youngest boxer and encouraged someone in the crowd to challenge him. There was monetary prize, but we’re not told exactly how much it was. Anyone who wanted to challenge him had to be under16 years of age. Lots of hands went into the air, locals eager to prove their pugilist skills. The compare picked one, he looked no older than about fourteen and was a Harry Potter look alike, with the Harry Potter like glasses included! He didn’t look anything like a boxer. If anything he looked soft and tender like a mummy’s boy. He looked like the first punch would knock him down, black eye included.
“OK, my boy, do your folks know that you’re entering the competition? said the compare.
“Yep, my dad’s over there” said the Harry Potter look alike.
“Are you in a local boxing club?” asks the compare.
“Do you go to school here in Mount Morgan?”
“Looking forward to making some cash eh?” said the compare.
“I sure am!” said Harry
“Do you think you’re fit enough to challenge my boy here?” said the compare. I could well imagine he knew too well that youngster was no where fit enough for the challenge.
“What’s your name son?”
“OK son, come up here on stage and stand beside him. Get your Mum to hold your glasses.”
Randy took his place next to the troupe boxer. The base drummer started beating the drum again and the bell boy gonged away at the bell. The drum and bell creates an air of excitement. The compare sent out a loud whistle, a signal for the drummer and bell ringer to stop the noise. He then bought forward another of his boys, this new one is a little older than the last. The compare again asked the crowd for challengers. Same as before, there was no lack of teenagers in the audience eager to prove themselves.
The signup continued with the audience getting bigger and bigger. I looked around the stalls selling hot-dogs, fairy floss and the shooting galleries. They were all empty of customers. The stall attendants, like everyone else, had their eyes firmly fixed on the biggest sideshow of them all – the boxing. When he finally got a challenger for his last and oldest boxer he then announced that the show would start in about five minutes. The entrance fee was $10. There was a rush for the entrance. Just about everyone in the large crowd headed in to see the show. Inside the tent was hot and dusty. The punters stood around the boxing ring which was a large sheet of heavy duty plastic mat placed on the ground. Two small stools sat either side of mat. Once the tent filled the show quickly got under way.
“Welcome to Bells Touring Stadium, ladies and gentlemen. I hope that you enjoy your afternoon of boxing. OK let us get the show on the road.” He then looked toward the boxers standing in the ring.
“Fit the first youngest two with the biggest gloves. We don’t want them doing any damage to each other” said the compare.
The young boys faced up to each other, shook hands and the bell was rung. The fight started and after no less than a couple of minutes it was obvious that Randy wasn’t anywhere as fit as the touring boxer. But he did his best to dodge his opponent’s right hander, but he had no chance. He quickly started to lose his breath, so the compare finished the round and called it even.
“I’m going to pay young Rudolf the money” said the compare.
“Ruldolf, ha, ha, ha.” A roar of laughter went up from the crowd.
”His name is Randy!” screamed a group of Randy’s friends.
“Sorry about that, I mean Randy.” the compare apologises.
"Now can everyone put their hands into their pockets and throw some change in onto the canvas for our two boys. They’ve done a good job”
The audience had already paid $10 to get in, now they get conned into donating more money. How much young Randy won, we were never told. The show continued until the fourth entrant got up and gave the Bells boxer a serious challenge. The compare stopped the round before either could get knocked out. He then awarded the local boxer the prize money and a cheer went up from the crowd. The last round got underway and the champ went over and sat with his friends. His mates gathered around their new local hero and all started slapping him on the back. The girls were kissing him. But he didn’t look right, he looked a little grey. As I stood there half watching the last round and observing the celebrations on the side, without any notice he just fell over backwards, flat on his back. Two police constables standing in the background were called over. They slap some water on his face, but he didn’t move. The constable pulled a radio out of his side pocket and called for an ambulance. The last round is called off early and the show comes to an end.The compare then announced.
“I’d like to thank everyone for coming this afternoon. I hope you’ve all had a good time. See you all at next year’s show. Thank you and have a nice evening.”
The audience filed out of the tent. I walked down to the bar for a beer and had a look at the prize cattle and poultry before going back to the hotel.
Back at the pub, I wandered through the bar, waved to the owner and head up the stairs to my room. The room overlooked the street, so I sat on a rickety old chair out front on the veranda to enjoy the sunset and the sound of the birds making their roost in the trees surrounding the old hotel.
From Mount Morgan there are two ways heading north - into Rockhampton then north via the Bruce Highway or drive west through to Emerald via the Capricorn Highway. I missed Rockhampton and took the westward route and made my first stop at Blackwater which is the start of coal mining region. From here I headed another 100 kilometres on the Capricorn Highway for another hour and twenty minutes to the regional centre of Emerald. From here I drove north along the Gregory Developmental Road another 108 kilometres through to Clermont.
At Clermont I checked into the Commercial hotel. A single room overlooking the main street, a steak dinner, two beers and a get it yourself breakfast came to the grand total of $48. I had visited Clermont a few years previously and had gone on the Blair Athol coal mine tour. Many large mining companies handed over the tours of their works to a private tour companies. Employees of the mining company take out the tours themselves, which are free of charge.
Most of the high quality steaming coal that comes from the open cut mine is railed out to the coast and shipped to Japan. Black diamonds are Australia’s biggest export earner. The mine now sits where the town of Blair Athol once stood. Not that it was a big town, but the whole town was demolished and a big hole dug where it once was. There is something to remind workers and visitors to the mine that a town once existed there - a single telegraph pole is all that is left. The Blair Athol mine is about 15 kilometres north of Clermont.
I made an early departure from Clermont the next morning. My next stop was Belyando Crossing. Although a distance of only 166 kilometres this was the longest run, so far, without a town or a service station. I suppose it’s just the nagging thought at the back of my mind of having to call a tow truck if Hewie blew a piston or something around the halfway mark. But Hewie performed well doing the run in 2 hours and forty minutes, chewing up 12.63 litres of fuel.
Balyando Crossing is just a service station and motel near the bridge that crosses the Balyando River. On arrival, I met John, a marathon walker. He’d arrived the previous evening on foot from Charters Towers, his last stop 210 kilometres to the north. John’s trip was to go from the extreme northern tip of the Cape York Peninsular down to the extreme southern tip of Tasmania, walking all the way. When I arrived he was just setting out to head south, down to Clermont. He had a small light trailer which he towed behind himself with a warning flag and a sign which read “Tip to Toe”. I looked at his small trailer which contained a small bag of clothes, a small tent, spare walking boots and food and water. There didn’t seem to be much water. I wondered how he’d get by with what looked like very little water to cover 166 kilometres by foot. Australia was in a serious drought and we were right in the middle of the dry season so there wasn’t any chance that he’d find a creek full of water along the way. I’d just come through there, it was as dry as a bone all the way.
“Looks like you don’t carry much water” I asked.
But John was unfazed.
“I’ll get by” he said as he hitched up his trailer and headed out over the Belyando Crossing bridge towards Clermont. Obviously, John had lived with little food and water for many months during his travels and had grown accustomed to life without a near constant full belly.
I moved Hewie into the small picnic ground and got out my one burner gas stove and set it up on a picnic table under the shade of a few trees and made a sandwich and cup of tea. I sat there eating my lunch in the quietness of the Australian outback. Some birds jumped down from the tree and sat on the table an arms length. They looked me straight in the eye, moved their heads and feathers and said in no uncertain terms. “We’re hungry, drop something out of that sandwich so we can eat”
I threw then a little piece of tomato, then a few crumbs of bread. They chirped away, as they ate with one eye on me and the other on their food. They also quickly started to trust me and moved closer and closer. I lifted my mug and took a mouthful of tea and placed my mug back on the table again. They jumped onto the rim of the mug and looked down into the tea, then looked up again and looked me straight in the eye. They didn’t chirp, just looked at me as if to say. “There’s no food in the cup, we want food!” I lifted the cup up again and took another drink of tea and placed it back on the table. Again they jumped on the rim, looked in and turned their heads to give me a dirty look.
With a tank full of fuel I again headed north for the final run of 210 kilometres, non-stop, to the old gold mining town of Charters Towers. The trip through relatively flat cattle country, took a little over three hours, with a ten minute rest stop about half way. About five cars and a few trucks passed me going the other way and a few passed going in my direction. There were no towns, nor did I see any houses along the way, just a few cattle. Charters Towers is probably the most beautiful inland city in the state of Queensland. The main street is lined with buildings from the gold rush era that started in the 1880’s.
On arrival in town, I booked into the Wellness Motel for one night at $60 a night. The gentleman who came out to book me in was a healthy looking sixty something year old. He looked just the part for a motel with the name Wellness attached to it – neatly trimmed, greyish, white hair and beard. His skin and smile seamed to shine with health. I mentioned to him how I was on a trip around Australia and needed to connect my computer to the internet to check on what was happening back at the office.
“You’re phones are working OK?” I asked.
“They’re fine, a lot of people who stay here connect their lap tops to the internet. You’ll need a modem. Hold on, I’ll get it for you” he headed out to the back of the office.
“It’s OK, I already have a modem in my computer, I don’t need another one.”
“Oh yes you will!” as he handed over a device that looked like a modem from about ten years previous.
“I do have a modem” I insisted.
“Believe me, you will need this. Connect it between your modem and the telephone jack” he said.
Why argue I thought to myself. I deceided to just take the whatever it was and give it back tomorrow.
“So it’s just one night you wish to stay with us?” he asked
“Yes, thank you. If I need another night I’ll let you know first thing in the morning” I said.
“That’ll be sixty dollars for the room and three dollars for the modem”
I went down to the room and set up my PC and plugged it into the phone jack, booted up the PC and pressed the internet connect button. The machine failed to connect. I tried again, no luck. I looked at the white plastic box Mr Wellness called a modem. I picked it up and plugged it in between the phone jack and the modem as he insisted and pressed the connect button again. The PC dialed out and instantly connected to the internet. I picked up the box and examined it carefully. It was made by an Australian IT company, but there was nothing imprinted on it saying what it was. Whatever it was, it worked.
Next morning, with the office out of sight, packed away in the back of Hewie, I turned on the ignition and pulled the starter. Nothing happened. I got out and opened the bonnet and checked the leads to the battery. All appeared to be connected. I went back and switched on the headlights. A light brown light shone from them. The battery was dead flat. I checked around for short circuits but everything appeared in place. I went back and pushed Hewie out into the drive. A group of house maids cleaning and changing the linen in the rooms looked over. Three stood there looking at me.
“Need a push mate?”
“Yeah, thanks girls”
The three of them came over and all pushed from the back, while I pushed from the side. Once we had enough momentum, I jumped in and put him into third gear and let the clutch out. Hewie kicked and spluttered, I gave the girls a wave and I heard one of them say to the others.
“Piece a shit”
Hewie made his way down the road, I saw a motor parts store and stopped across the street conveniently on a small hill so if he stopped I could clutch start him again. I opened the bonnet and started going over everything. I pulled the cover off the voltage regulator, everything looked in working order. A passer-by stopped to look at Hewie and stuck his head under the bonnet alongside me.
“Sounds if she just rolled off the production line, what model is she”? he asked.
“1951, but when I tried to start him this morning the battery was flat. I had to kick start him. The battery is about a year old. I’m not sure where the problem is”
“There’s an auto-electrician just down the street and around the corner. You’ll see him in the little industrial area on the right.” he said.
I drove into Drury’s Auto-Electrical. A couple of auto-electricians came over and I opened the bonnet.
“An old generator” one said.
“Yeah, we touched on these during my tech course, but I’ve never actually worked on one before” said the other.
“I’m not sure if it’s the generator, could be the voltage regulator or maybe even the battery, I drove up from Clermont yesterday and the battery was flat this morning. I went over it looking for a loose connection but couldn’t find anything. I don’t have a voltmeter.” He got out his voltmeter.
“Start her up, will ya mate”
The first place he went to was the two leads coming out of the generator.
“Looks like your generator is burnt out, it’s just showing a small voltage” he told me.
“Hopefully, it’s just the carbon brushes worn out. I’ve had the car since 1998 and never touched the generator. Before I left home I was thinking that maybe I should pull it apart, clean it up and check the brushes.” I told him
“Can you come back in an hour? That will give me time to get it off and pull it to pieces?” he said.
I was concerned that he’d tell me to come back next week. If he’d said that, I would have driven away and fixed it myself in a car space at a local service station, close to a spare parts supplier. I headed downtown by foot and visited the Charters Towers Stock Exchange, a grand masonry building on the main street. The exchange opened in 1890 after the discovery of reef gold. Hundreds of small, medium and large gold mining companies were listed. When the boom finally finished and the population dwindled, the exchange was closed in 1916.
Returning to the workshop, I found the auto-electrician searching through a box full of brushes, nuts, bolts and pieces of junk, with the generator on the bench in pieces.
“You were right, it only needs a new set of brushes. My only problem now is to find a set of brushes that will fit it. It’s never been pulled apart before.”
“Are you sure it’s that new” I asked warily.
“Ah, here we go, these two brushes fit, I’ll grind them down a little and they’ll fit perfectly. You’re lucky.”
“He put it back together, gave it a new coat of paint and bolted it in. As he pulled the generator out to tighten the belt I warned him about making it too tight.
“It might wear the belt away or damage the bearing in the end of the generator.” I said.
He backed off a little, but it was still a little tight for my liking. I like the generator belt to be a little sloppy. It’s easier to replace the belt than replace a bearing. But, I let it go.
The final bill for the work came to one hundred and three dollars. Fair enough I thought to myself as I pulled my credit card out.
“Where are you of too next?” the electrician asked.
“Malanda, up in the Atherton Tablelands, I’m doing a trip around Australia.”
“In that!” he quickly barked back.
“Yeah, I basically limp from town to town. But, I’ll make it” I told him.
I’d planned to head east across to Townsville, but it was getting late in the day so I decided to stay another night in Charters Towers. I headed over to the local backpackers hostel which was an old railway workers’ barracks. Normally on the coast and in popular tourist areas backpacker hostels are full to overflowing. But, at Charters Towers, being inland and off the tourist trail, this hostel was near empty. It must have had about forty to fifty rooms but with only a handful of guests. My own room with clean linen and own TV the cost was twenty dollars a night.
I tried to make an early start for Townsville the next morning but on the way out of the hostel, I met with the owner. He asked about Hewie and we got into the usual conversation ton classic s. I took him for a run around the block in Hewie. When we got back, he got out his 1948 model FX Holden utility, which he then took me for a ride in.
I was hoping for a seven o’clock departure, but ended up getting away about nine that morning. It’s a little over two hours for a Morris Minor side-valve from Charters Towers to the coastal tropical city of Townsville. I had just reached the suburbs of Townsville, when I noticed red streaks running down the firewall. I slowed down and took a closer look. It was rusty water, obviously radiator water. There was a service station up ahead so I pulled in and opened the bonnet. The alloy mounting on the side of the engine for the generator was leaking. My fears of the generator belt being too tight and putting too much pressure on the gasket between the engine block and alloy cover were now real. I tried to tighten the bolts that held the cover on. They moved a little but I feared that if I tried too much the heads would snap off. I filled Hewie up with fuel and purchased a bottle of Bars Leak. I then loosened up the belt and took the top radiator hose off and poured the full bottle of Bars Leak straight into the top of the engine, screwed the radiator hose back into place, filled up with water and headed towards Townsville.
Once in Townsville, I made a left turn onto the Bruce highway and headed north towards Cairns. I was about ten kilometres out when I could smell steam from the radiator again. I pulled over, filled up with water and decided to call it a day. The problem needed fixing. I headed back into Townsville and got a room at the classic old Grand Railway Hotel, across the road from the old railway station. In the hotel car park I got my tool box out and proceeded to take off the generator and then slowly started to undo the first of the four bolts that held on the cover. The first and second unscrewed easily. I thought I was home with the third but it snapped off half way down the bolt. The fourth also came out easily. Closely examining the cover I could see that part of the problem was that the face was partly corroded. But the main problem now was to get the broken bolt drilled out, tapped and find a replacement bolt. Across the road was an auto repair shop. Their parking lot was full, cars waiting for repair were even parked on the footpath. It was just before five in the afternoon and they were in the process of closing shop. I ran across and asked them the possibilities of having them work on my car. He went to a book.
“Look mate, we’re full up until next week, can you bring it in next Tuesday.”
It was Wednesday.
“Give this guy a call, he’s the Leyland dealer for Townsville, he might be able to help you.” He handed me his business card with the Leyland dealer telephone number on the back.
I rang him up. He spoke with a strong Geordie accent.
“Where in England are you from?” I asked.
“Newcastle upon Tyne, I’ve been out here twenty seven years”
“Still not lost your accent”
“Nah, never will, what can I do for ya?”
I told him my problems, but got the same old answer.
“Can’t help ya at the moment, It’d be next week at the earliest before I could do anything. I’m flat out.” he said.
“Well, that’s it,” I thought to myself, “fix it myself or wait.” I went back to Hewie and packed away my tools and over to the bar at the hotel for an ice cold schooner of beer.
Next morning I found an old corn flake packet and made up a gasket and with a liberal amount of gasket goo I bolted the cover back on, filling up the hole left by the broken bolt with the remains of an old t-shirt. This I hoped would get me through to Malanda where I could borrow an electric drill and drill out the broken bolt and finish the job off properly. I hit the highway again with an extra supply of water and stopped every twenty minutes to top up the radiator. That evening I made it through to the town of Ingham. I stopped at a service station to top up with fuel but mainly to fill up the water bottles. I opened the bonnet to find that oil was leaking out of the top of the oil filter. The culprit was the large brass nut on the top. Was it just loose or was the seal damaged? I got out the tool box but didn’t have a spanner large enough to fit the nut. I got out my largest adjustable wrench, but it was too large to fit between the nut and the inside of the mud guard. I worked at it for half an hour before I finally stopped the leak. It worked out that the nut was just loose. Thank god I’m in the habit of stopping every 100 kilometres, taking a stretch and checking the engine and oil.
Enough of Hewie for the day, I got a room the Commercial Hotel in Ingham. The room here was a basic hotel room, but it was a bargain at only fourteen dollars a night. I dined at an Italian restaurant, The Green Olive, across the road from the hotel.
Back on the road north the next morning, I limped through to Innisfail, eighty three kilometres south of Cairns which like Ingham is another town that makes its living from the surrounding sugar cane farms. I stopped by the local tractor and farm machinery spare parts store. I walked into the old weatherboard building with a corre gated iron roof. Inside every v-belt imaginable hung from the rafters, cans of grease, oils, pumps, irrigation equipment sat on the shelves. Out the back were lines of shelves that housed every a vast collection of nuts, bolts and bits and pieces of this and that.
“Do you have a bolt this size but about half and inch longer? I’m not sure of the thread, may BSF?” I asked the guy behind the counter. He took it and wandered in behind the rows of shelves. A few minutes later he came out with the exact size and thread bolt.
“Also, do you have a tap and drill to drill out the old bolt that broke off in the engine block?”
“What’s this for?” he asked.
“The Morris Minor out the front” he looked out the front of the store window and looked back into the workshop out the back where mechanics and welders were working on irrigation pumps and farm tractors.
“Hey, you blokes, come out and have a look at this!”
Everyone downed their tools and came out to discuss the virtues of touring Australia in a car where you could buy parts from any machinery shop, tractor spare parts and various other junk stores.
“While I’m here I’ll get a fan belt too. It’s a B29.”
“Yeah mate, no problem we’ve got plenty of them.”
Stocked up with four new bolts, washers, a tap, an easy out, a few sheets of wet and dry sandpaper, a drill and another can of radiator stop leak I headed out to Hewie. I topped him up with water and filled up my water jerry from a hose at the side of the shop. The next and last leg of the first part of the trip was uphill into the Atherton Tablelands. The store assistant came out to wish me luck, reminding me of the climb ahead and to take it easy.
The run up the range to Milanda was about 60 kilometres, and I stopped every fifteen kilometres and topped up the water. Hewie stayed cool the whole way. It was good to meet up with my old friends. I stopped by the local hotel and picked up a couple of bottles of wine. We had a lot to celebrate as we’d not seen each other for many years and Hewie had just completed the first leg of his around Australia journey. I was jumping with excitement.