About Me

My photo
Queensland, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Queensland, Australia. www.noelleclark.net

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mt Isa - Chapter 3

The sun rises later and sets later here in the west. The mornings are gloriously dark and velvety until at least 7am. When the sun rises, the rocky escarpments I can see outside my window turn iridescent orange thanks to the high iron ore content in the rocks. I think the thing I love best about the outback is the combination of those two colours – the orange and the sage green. The orange hues change from muted, burnt sienna to a bright, red-hot-poker fiery colour depending on the time of day. The dusky, olive green of the spinifex grass compliments beautifully the grey-green leaves of the ghost gums with their stark white bark. The colours immediately say to me that I am in the outback of Australia.

Mt Isa city has a population of about 24,000. They have no public transport system at all, only taxis. Nearly everyone drives everywhere, even short distances. They balk at walking more than a few hundred metres. One of my colleagues rides an electric tricycle all over town. It is relatively flat in the town, although high ridges made of orange rock and a few scrubby tufts of spinifex rise abruptly out of nowhere circling the town. These outcrops also pop up here and there right in the middle of the town which seems somehow odd.

On top of one such outcrop, there is the City Lookout. It is a great place to see the town sprawling out from the entrance to the mine. Looking south-east you can see the mammoth mine with its chimney stacks spewing forth a non-stop plume of black smoke. Turning around to face north-west, you get a birds eye view of Buchanan Park – home of the famous Mount Isa Rodeo, the richest rodeo event in the country. Come the first weekend in August and Buchanan Park will be alive with the sound of country rock bands, Bundy drinking crowds in Akubras, the sounds and smell of cattle and horses, and the ubiquitous shout of “cowboy up!”

The mine dominates the town, and indeed is the reason for the town being born here in the 1920s. Everyone here works in the mine. A first year apprentice mechanic gets $70,000pa. The mine works 24 hours a day. At night it is a thing of beauty with lights that, from a distance, look like fairy lights on a Christmas tree, glowing against a pitch black background.

The first thing you notice about Mt Isa as you drive in from the airport is the black, orange and white chimney from the smelter. This is the original one. I can still see this stack rising proud and tall from the old black and white slides that my Dad took when he was living and working here in Mt Isa in the early 1950s. There are two other larger chimneys now but they are a boring concrete grey and not nearly so iconic as the old one.

The other outcrops that are close into town have giant concrete water tanks atop them, or aerials and beacons. But one that I can see outside my motel window has a glorious homestead sitting majestically above the TAFE where I am working. What a spot!

As you cross the Leichardt River, you notice it has no water in it. Just a dry gravel bed. Up here in the north, there are only two seasons – the wet and the dry. Summertime it pours and every second year or so the Leichardt floods and there is only one bridge across it navigable for weeks on end. There are flood warning signs everywhere. The locals take this rude intrusion into their laid back lifestyle very calmly. Just something that has to be dealt with.

Driving the 13 kilometres out to Lake Moondarra was akin to being 600 k’s from Alice. Five minutes out of town and you are in the scrub. The bumpy, flood ravaged and often repaired bitumen road was an event in it’s own right as I was the passenger in a very rough 4WD flatbed truck with a bank of 4 massive spotties on the roof for roo shooting.
On the unfenced roadside were herds of magnificent Brahman cattle, looking fat and healthy on the plentiful grey-green grass which amply grew thanks to the record rainfall this place received around Christmas time. Lake Moondarra is Mt Isa’s man-made lake and water supply. A few years ago it was down to only about 10% capacity, but now it is full. A beautiful, shimmering blue oasis in the middle of the outback desert. On a hot summer’s day, my tour guide and work colleague, Lindsay, told me that you can’t get a car park it is so packed out. People water ski, fish for barramundi (artificially stocked) and catfish. They picnic, barbecue, jet ski, swim and hang out. There are lovely picnic areas with all amenities and a flock of peacocks roaming around. From one of the many rocky outcrop lookouts, you can view the whole lake and the concrete spillway. The view from up there is sheer heaven. Right to the horizon on all points of the compass is the great Australian outback which I so dearly love. Scrubby trees, low bushes, red soil, kites flying overhead, tall, pointy red magnetic ant hills. A magic place which the locals are extremely proud of.

The Isan’s, which the locals call themselves, have a good range of shops to choose from, with both major supermarket chains represented plus a very large IGA out at the Overlander shopping centre and hotel right opposite the TAFE where I was working. In town, there is the Buff’s club, a very swanky club with pokies, bars, bistro. Further out of town on the other side of the mine is the equally popular Irish Club. My work colleagues tell me they have a fantastic social life, consisting mainly of barbecues with friends, four wheel driving up and down very steep rocky escarpments (we saw them on the drive out to Lake Moondarra), camping, and many sporting activities which they participate in, being the main relaxation and social activities for them. My Dad joined the local motor cycle club when he came up here in the early 50's. I remember him regailing us with happy stories of the barbecues and beers he had in the bed of the dry Leichardt River.

I have enjoyed beautiful winter weather here this week. It has been almost the same as Brisbane. Cool mornings of about 10 degrees, with sunny warm days getting up to about 23 degrees. However today, my last day, is a bit overcast and there is a definite chill in the strong breeze that tends to go through you and not around you.

I have found the locals to be friendly and welcoming of ‘coasties’ – people who come from coastal areas. Everyone is curious about where you come from. Working up here for the week has been a good experience, getting to know the people and finding out about their unique set of issues and problems associated with the work we do. It took me a few days to get used to the fact that they seem to operate on a different time zone to what I am used to. Mt Isa time. I wish I could package it up and take it back to my hustle and bustle world of work in Brisbane. My stress levels noticeably dropped this week.

I thought of my Dad a lot whilst I was here. From my motel I looked directly at that iconic orange striped chimney stack of the smelter. I can’t help seeing that and not think of my father. His stories and photos of Mt Isa must have made a big impression on me when I was little. I am glad I too now have some stories to tell about Mt Isa. A great place with a lot of character – and characters.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Noelle.
    I have really enjoyed seeing Mt Isa through your eyes. I especially like the way you have woven in your family history to your tril. Very insightful and a pleasure to read.

    I look forward to your next adventure.

    kind regards