Camooweal is a town with more memorials per head of population than anywhere else in Australia—I defy you to prove otherwise.
At the 2011 Census the town had 187 people. [The population has been dribbling down as the years pass which is a shame because our cities don’t really need more people.] And there are at least four memorials; this makes a memorial for every 40 or 50 people. [At the same rate Sydney would have over 80 000 memorials, or over 40 per square kilometre. See, I can still do it.]
Anyway, my statement’s probably rubbish because there may well be another country town with more memorials per head. [And I’m not the one to prove that—I still can but I’m onto other things now. Like ranting.]
OK, I’ll stop now.
We lobbed into Cammoweal on Monday 30 July 2012 having begun the day in Cloncurry.
It seemed like a good place for the night—the next stop, Barkly Homestead Roadhouse in the Northern Territory, was over 250 kilometres away and looking like about three hours travelling time. The day would still be under 600 kilometres—which is no big deal—but we wanted to relax a bit as we went.
Besides, there was a pub and a camping ground.
Did I say, there was a pub?
There are two caravan parks in Camooweal, the Post Office Hotel caravan park and the Camooweal Roadhouse Caravan Park. The Post Office Hotel [nothing to do with the Post Office as far as we could tell] was pretty inviting as was the caravan park right out the back. Anyway, we saw the Post Office Hotel park first, and, importantly, it was just a one minute walk to the bar of the hotel.
[The linked image of the hotel is on the Pub Location web site—what a useful web site it seems to be, despite the myriad of advertisements.]
So we paid our money and found a site in about a hectare of gravel and trees. There were about six vans in residence so we had way, way too much choice. Sometimes it’s as hard to find a site when there’s too much choice as when there’s too little—you can end up tricking yourself in the process of self congratulations about how clever you have been in the site you have settled on.
And as it turned out we were too close to a van with a dog—an obedient little chap which, when it felt the call of nature, made its deposit some distance from the owners’ van [and, as it turned out, next to ours]. How well-trained is that?
The caravan park was a bit exposed and was cold overnight [but cold is far better than hot in my book].
If you were to check out Google Earth, which I’m sure you will after reading this, you will see that the Post Office Hotel Caravan Park has absolutely no—zero, zip, niente—caravans in residence. [It certainly wasn’t that bad I can tell you.] [And there was that pub within strolling distance.]
As it turned out, Camooweal has rewards for those who get out of their vehicle and walk around. I guess many of these rural, regional and remote towns do.
So we set up then had that cold one at the pub. In the process we found that there was a pretty good free camp on the Georgina River within a kilometre of town. We didn’t beat ourselves up too much about that—we hadn’t had to go the kilometre for our cold drink, had we?
Then it was the Post Office and the Post Office shop.
The man in the Post Office was quite helpful and the little shop seemed to have anything one could reasonably want.
And he had a tourist brochure.
Camooweal was originally built on Lake Francis—not really a lake, more a deep hole on the river. [And not a billabong either as some modern sources tell us. A billabong is “an isolated pond that is left behind after a river changes course” according to that most useful of all quick references, Wikipedia. This would make a billabong an oxbow lake I think. Anyway, Lake Francis is neither. So there.]
The town was later moved, I’ve no idea why [I could find out but the sloth is upon me], so Camooweal is now some distance from Lake Francis. I’m not sure why I mentioned Lake Francis, really, except as a bit of a segue [I’m with this modern vocabulary I’m sure you’ve noticed] into my first memorial on the main street [the main street, the Barkly Highway, is the longest main street in the world according to tourist authorities. Why? Because it runs all the way from Mount Isa to the Northern Territory border. Impressed, aren’t you?]
[For reasons that are still unclear, the above was the only photograph of the Camooweal main street among the 185 000 photographs we took during the trip.]
There is a memorial to William Landsborough whose party passed this way trying to find what Burke and Wills had done with themselves. [I’m amazed that in those days anyone thought it remotely likely they would find what had happened to Burke and Wills.]
Landsborough’s was not the party to find Australia’s two most famous explorers—that grisly task fell to the party of Alfred Howitt. Landsborough did find some country considered good for grazing, however.
The plaque reads:
William Landsborough’s 1861 expedition
In 1861 William Landsborough in search for Burke and Wills discovered and named the rich Barkly Tableland, the Herbert River (now the Georgina River), Lake Mary at Rocklands Station and Lake Frances [sic] on which Camooweal stands.
Again in the main street is this mural:
The text of this is [with minor editorial changes]:
From Camooweal to Calcutta
A tribute to the horses of the Barkly and their riders, namely Joseph Freckleton—ex ANZAC D Company, 25th Battalion No. 864, honorable [sic] discharge and Paddy Fraser, loyal friend, Aboriginal tracker and stockman. During the depression, approximately 1930–1935, the two intrepid men brought horses from stations of the Barkly, broke them in and drove them down along the Birdsville track. They then travelled with the teams of horses (Brumby’s) across the Simpson desert to Gladstone in South Australia. Here large horse sales were conducted where the animals were sold as remounts to the Indian Army.
The mural is a remembrance to all the pioneering men and women who assisted.
[Painted by father and daughter Kitch Lowth and Rose Wright with invitationn from Lorna Freckleton—daughter of Joseph.
Funded by L. Freckleton and RADF.
Also in the main street is the town’s war memorial:
The war memorial is a simple plaque attached to a rock.
The text of the plaque on the war memorial is:
Lest We Forget
In tribute to all those who served their country.
Greater love has no man than he would lay down his life for others.
Now, the Camooweal tourist brochure from the Post Office and shop told us of the local Tree of Knowledge [we had to be told because we didn’t arrive fully formed with an understanding that this tree existed. You were possibly the same].
Anyway, I had thought that the Tree of Knowledge was in Barcaldine.
Well it is and it isn’t.
There are, apparently, three Trees of Knowledge in Queensland. [I have no idea how many there are in the rest of Australia.]
There is the one, the well-known one, at Barcaldine [I’ll talk about the strange memorial in Barcaldine some other time].
There is one at Birdsville.
And there is the one in Camooweal.
The man in the Post Office told us that as far as he knew the Tree of Knowledge was beside the Georgina River not far from the Barkly Highway bridge across the river. And he gave us directions which, on looking back on it, may have been totally wrong.
So we walked on out of town headed west towards the Georgina River which the Tree of Knowledge on our mind.
There is a park at the edge of town on the right hand side heading west towards the Northern Territory [that would make it on the north side of the road—yes, I’m that good at working these things out.]
The park sports this kangaroo [remember to tell your overseas friends]:
We never saw one of the live versions of this kangaroo, at least not hopping. There may have been one or two amongst the megatonnes of dead animals, domestic and wild, mowed down in their thousands by the unstoppable momentum of hoards of road trains that seem to inhabit this part of the world.
Anyway, the bridge across the Georgina River is a short distance to the west of the town. It is on a bend in the road and curves gently round, many metres above the dry river bed.
This bridge was opened in 2002. The memorial and plaque—ah, yes, another memorial—say nothing particularly memorable but do show how important the then Minister for Transport and Regional Services thought the opening was [that is, he was somewhere else]:
Georgina River Bridge
Barkly Highway, Camooweal.
Officially opened by Senator the Honourable Ron Boswell, Parliamentary Secretary to the Federal Minister for Transport and Regional Services and Senator for Queensland representing The Honourable John Anderson MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Minister for Transport and Regional Services and The Honourable Steve Bredhauer MP, State Minister for Transport and Minister for Main Roads and Member for Cook on 20 December 2002.
Anyway, we blundered around for ages looking for a Coolibah with a plaque to tell us it was the Tree of Knowledge.
This is one of the many fine looking trees that we rushed expectantly up to:
Eventually we gave up. [That’s hard to admit—a memorial chaser should be more dedicated, I know. But there were hundreds of trees scattered over thousands of hectares.]
Back in town we quizzed the man in the Post Office about the non-appearing Tree of Knowledge. The consensus in the shop was that the tree we now an ex-tree and that even the site was not marked. Very unsatisfactory.
Anyway, the Queensland Heritage people seem to think that the Tree of Knowledge is still there.
Their web site has the following [edited somewhat], captured on 2 July 2013:
Tree of Knowledge
Address Barkly Highway
Town / Suburb CAMOOWEAL
Post Code 4828
LGA MOUNT ISA CITY COUNCIL
Cultural Heritage Significance
of Significance 1890s-ongoing (historical, social)
Criterion A: The Tree of Knowledge on the Camooweal Camping, Pasturage & Stock Dipping reserve is important in demonstrating part of the pattern of Queensland’s history. Before the advent of trucking, the reserve was used by drovers, teamsters and others visiting Camooweal as a place to camp, rest, collect mail and supplies and seek medical assistance at nearby Camooweal, before beginning the next stage of the journey. According to oral history, the Tree of Knowledge on the Camooweal reserve was a meeting place where the campers exchanged gossip.
Criterion G: The tree has special association with drovers and their descendants and descendants of others involved in the pastoral industry. The Tree of Knowledge acts as a living, physical focal point for memories and reminiscences about their past and the role they and their families played in the development of the Barkly Tableland and surrounding area.
History The Tree of Knowledge on the Camooweal Camping, Pasturage & Stock Dipping Reserve is a mature Coolibah tree, on the eastern side of the Georgina River and about 200 metres west of the town. It is said that for many years drovers and teamsters camped nearby and met and yarned beneath the shade of the tree.
Following William Landsborough’s exploration of the Camooweal area during his search for Burke and Wills in 1861-62 pastoralists moved into the district. The first was John Sutherland who took up the Rocklands lease in 1865. Loss of stock to dingos combined with isolation, scarcity of labour and transport difficulties forced him to abandon his lease.
It was not until the mid-1870s that squatters moved back to the area. In 1883 local squatters petitioned the Queensland government, requesting that land for a town to service their pastoral properties be reserved at the junction of the main stock route down the Georgina River from Burketown and a track from the east to South Australia’s Northern Territory. A town reserve of four square miles was gazetted on 15 December 1883 and was amended and re-gazetted in August 1884. The reserve was located on the Georgina River near Lake Frances, south of Rocklands Station Homestead. The first sections of the Town of Camooweal were surveyed in 1888.
By 1892 Camooweal had become an important outback township on major routes between Cloncurry and Burketown and Cloncurry and pastoral properties further west. Being only seven miles from the border with South Australia it had a customs post, as well as post and telegraph facilities, courthouse and police station besides 2 hotels, a school and various service and supply businesses.
A pasturage reserve adjacent to the township was declared probably in the 1890s. In 1917 the reserve was increased from 7,697 acres to about 14,000 acres. This reserve stretched from the west of the town of Camooweal to the Northern Territory border and the rabbit proof fence and shared its northern and southern boundaries with Rocklands Station. In 1933 the reserve was designated for Pasturage purposes and in 1973 it was declared as a Camping, Pasturage & Stock dipping reserve. It is currently about 5,480 hectares in area.
The Barkly Highway passes through this reserve and drovers taking stock to and from the Northern Territory, up and down the Georgina stock route and up to Burketown used this reserve as a rest area. To teamsters and drovers, camping on the reserve near the Georgina River meant a chance to rest, clean clothes, water and feed their animals and utilise nearby Camooweal facilities such as shops, medical help and postal services. It was also an opportunity for teamsters and their families who used this route regularly, to send their children to the local school temporarily. Oral history collected from various drovers who used the reserve regularly, records that a particular Coolibah tree on the pasturage reserve, far enough from the river that it was safe from flash flooding and sheltered from the southerly prevailing winds, became a popular meeting place for drovers and teamsters, where they would sit in the shade and share tea and gossip – hence the name ‘Tree of Knowledge’. The tree was located on the eastern side of the Georgina River, north of the bridge and within walking distance of town and offered attractive shade to those on the trade route from Burketown to Camooweal.
Description: The Tree of Knowledge is a mature Coolibah tree (Eucalyptus microtheca) on the eastern side of the Georgina River, within walking distance of the town of Camooweal. It is located within 100 metres north of the new road bridge in the Camooweal Camping, Pasturage & Stock Dipping Reserve on the eastern flood plain of the Georgina River, 200 metres west of Camooweal at 19° 55.18 South and 138° 06.63 East. The tree is approximately 8 metres in height and its circumference a metre above the ground is 150 cm. There are scars around the base of the trunk and to a height of about 2.5 metres.
Last updated: 15 March 2013
The quoted material is copyright to the Queensland Government. It’s web site tells us, though:
The Queensland Government supports and encourages the dissemination and exchange of information; however, copyright protects this document. The State of Queensland has no objection to this material being reproduced, made available online or electronically provided it is for your personal, non-commercial use, or use within your organisation; this material remains unaltered; and the State of Queensland is recognised as the owner.
After the event, and checking the latitude and longitude in the Heritage Queensland description, I think we were looking in the wrong place. As I said, very unsatisfactory.
I think that the upshot is that we’ll have to go back sometime and wander some more—maybe, just maybe, the tree is out there somewhere. And maybe, just maybe, there is a plaque [possible even where Heritage Queensland say the tree was].
After all that excitement, it was time for dinner and our cosy camper.
And this magnificent sunset:
We headed west from Camooweal at around 0945 the next day Tuesday 31 July 2012, passing the Queensland – Northern Territory border at 1010.
[We also drove back through Camooweal—Wednesday 15 August 2012—on our way home from the Northern Territory—no overnight stop this time, just a fuel stop and some lunch under the shade of a tree before we headed on towards Mount Isa for the night.]