The Coopers Creek is a long way from anywhere – more or less in the centre of the Australian continent. Surrounded on all sides by relentless sand dunes or rock-strewn gibber plains, the Coopers is no conventional watercourse – something which makes it all the more remarkable and oasis-like. With a massive catchment area in the Queensland Channel Country, it is fed by rain which falls thousands of kilometres away and drains via a myriad of arterial channels into the inland. The Coopers Creek is really a series of changing billabongs. When it flows, the system fills the channels, waterholes and swamps of desert, and in exceptional years, disgorges along the channels into the salt lakes of Lake Eyre. When it does not flow, all but a few permanent waterholes are reduced to empty channels and muddy holes. It is a place of extremes – of bounteous floods and protracted droughts – an icon of the ‘boom and bust’ cycles which characterise much of our dry interior.
These few permanent waterholes are the most reliable water source for many hundreds of kilometres, and as a result, they are teeming with life. Our camp beneath red gums and coolibahs by the waters edge became a raucous cacophony every evening as the trees filled with cockatoos, parrots and other birds. We watched waterbirds of innumerable types glide past. We fished for yellow belly and sooty grunter, and dug mussels out of the mud with our toes. There were wallabies at dusk drinking from the waters edge, and dingo tracks in the sand each morning.
With some big days of travelling behind us, we felt little urge to explore beyond little forays along the billabong in the new blow-up birthday boat. We swam, fished and paddled in the cool water. We ate simple meals of fish and damper. We talked a lot about the events of the Burke and Wills expedition, and what led them to perish here, in a place of such abundance.
# Catching his own fish was a massive rush for Cassidy.
# The blow-up boat was great for floating along the waters.
# Billabong boy.
# Sooty grunter and damper on the coals.
# Grubby twins.
# Our very simple canvas bush shower strung from a coolibah tree and filled with water warmed on the fire.
# We found these freshwater mussels by squelching about in the sticky mud and feeling them with our toes.
# A monument commemorating the place at which the explorer Wills spent his final, exhausted days.