The country north of Mt Isa and south of the Gulf of Carpentaria is mostly black soil plains. The country is harsh, exposed and blisteringly hot. The limestone plateau which rises in the western parts, though, contains numerous freshwater springs which in turn give rise to permanent river systems: Lawn Hill Creek, the Gregory River and its tributaries, and the O’Shannassey. These emerald corridors of freshwater are home to an incredible array of riverine vegetation: spiky pandanas, tall Leichhardt trees, figs, cabbage palms, ghost gums and paperbarks, and lower down, ferns, bulrushes and water lilies. Birdlife and aquatic creatures are abundant, and sitting quietly on the edges we observed constantly changing parades of life, both within and around the water. At night we caught cherapin (huge freshwater yabbies) and shone our torches on the passing parade of fish, harmless file snakes, turtles and more.
Having worked extensively throughout this country with Waanyi traditional owners of the area, we were fortunate to be able to camp in and visit places that few others ever see. Our camp on the banks of the river in a spot known only to insiders was hands-down our favourite camp of our trip. Upstream a series of cascades flowed towards the quieter water adjacent to our camp, which had both shallow and deeper sections to cater perfectly to the varying swimming abilities of the kids, and downstream the river junctioned with a smaller side creek and opened up into a beautiful broader hole.
We swam all day, coming out only when we needed food or to toast ourselves in the sunshine before diving into the emerald waters once more. The kids expended so much energy they all ate adult-sized meals and submitted easily each night to deep slumbers in their swags.
We stayed here for a week – longer than any other place on our entire trip, and there was time for fishing, baking damper, colouring in, birdwatching and exploring up and down the river. We ventured up to the station homestead to visit friends, returning laden with freshly baked anzac biscuits, station beef, and armfuls of fresh garden produce, including even red papaya! We also visited nearby Lawn Hill Gorge, and paddled in canoes up the incredible gorge to swim in the falls amongst the turtles and abundant fish.
There is no doubt that this country has found its way into the hearts of our children, and that the connection I have to the places and people here will continue with them. It makes those thousands of kilometres of travelling so worth while. Honouring my connections with place has become, for me, one of the most important ways of fostering my own children’s attachment to nature. And you don’t necessarily have to travel thousands of kilometres to do it: many of the strongest ties we have ourselves can be found in the natural environment around our home, or at places nearby. You just have to get out there – together.