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Follow the Rusty Red Road

Follow the Rusty Red Road

So I had one full day left in Mt. Isa and I think it was extraordinarily well spent: we trekked out into the bush!  It was exactly the kind of thing I had pictured when envisioning the arid outback: we were going to look for rocks! It was a guaranteed dusty and dry process and I was very excited, indeed.

Termite moundsNow it’s not too hard to get to the middle of nowhere from Mt. Isa.  One can accomplish this by driving in any given direction for any more than ten minutes.  This allows you time to pass through the city.  Within minutes all that surrounds you are  red hills lined with spinifex and some low-lying trees dispersed intermittently around termite mounds (interestingly, I mistook these mounds for rocks when I first saw them – supposedly a common mistake…I wondered why people had bothered to stand hundreds of red rocks on their sides – monolithic art…obelisks du nature?).

The Treasure!

The Treasure!

So we had a great plan.  We were invited to go looking for Maltese crosses (MCs).  These are rock-like crystal formations made of a mineral called staurolite. They form in geometrical diamond-shaped patterns.  Every so often the diamond shapes line up and when they form in just the right way an extraordinary cross is born.  This symbol is commonly associated with good luck and protection.

There are only a few places in the world these small phenomena are found.  We were on our way to find treasure!!  (Finally, a way to fund my trip!)

So we loaded up the 4×4 with food and equipment and five of us headed out.  We were quite a team.  Roy – the Maltese cross expert extraordinaire – was the one who was kind enough to invite us out.  He has the knowledge and the equipment to guarantee us finding a least a few of these elusive gems.  When he’s not digging in the dirt, he frequents the café where Stacey is employed.  He happened to mention this interesting hobby of his to Stacey, earlier in the week.  Stacey showed keen interest and knew I would be totally up for it.  Her co-worker Lisa happened to have the day off as well.  Roy invited a friend of his, Laura, and so we made up a mad team of gung-ho Maltese cross discoverers.

That's as far up as he went!

That's as far up as he went!

After about a half hour down the highway we took a discreet turn-off and started on what would be many hours of very bumpy 4X4ing.  The novelty of being jostled around wore off after about ten minutes, but we were easily distracted from the incessant rigmarole by the abundance of wildlife we encountered.  Roy had this amazing knack for seeing critters from afar and stopping the vehicle at just the right time to get up-close and personal (note the picture of the lizard running up his leg?).  We saw a variety of lizards and so many birds – bugs, cows, insects…it was a desert cornucopia.  It’s amazing how barren and dry everything looks, but there is this whole ecosystem just waiting to be discovered (especially with the very wet wet-season that had just recently ended).  We realized quickly that we had, in Roy, not just a navigator, but a tour-guide as well.

We arrived at Roy’s secret site and each had our turn sifting through the dirt for Maltese Crosses.  Beginners’ luck being on my side, I managed to spot an interesting looking rock in the first batch.  I found one!  I’m told it’s worth at least $10-20!  Now that won’t even get me a nice dinner…I had better keep looking.

Sifting RocksAfter a few hours we all managed to find one, although none as big or as square as the first beauty (the more angled type are considered St. Andrew’s Crosses).  We celebrated by heading back up the track and indulging in a picnic and a swim. I provided entertainment by stepping in the biggest cow-patty I’ve ever seen…or felt (squishing around my sneakers) for that matter, …I only did it for laughs – one of my gifts…really…

The way back was, I swear, bumpier than the trip in.  Roy picked up speed and we all sang along, loudly, to Billy Joel…  Piano Man will be forever etched in those little lizards’ little brains, and for that I apologize – but what fun!  I would, without question, back Roy in a guided-tour-adventure company if he ever thought to start one up – Outstanding Outback Adventures, or some such title.  I would pay good money to be slung through the outback, made to inhale dust, find treasure, and bounced straight into cow patties.  Honestly, it was an absolutely awesome way to spend the day.

What an amazing way to cap off my first trip into the inner-heart of the continent.   And my, oh my, what a big and beautiful heart it turned out to be!

Theme Songs of the Day:

Why Worry – Dire Straits, from the album Walk of Life – (This song is specially dedicated to you, dad).

Oh, I’m comfy. I really like the Outback. The only reason I’m okay with leaving this great little city: I get to head back to more great friends on the coast.

The family pet...(the dog!)

The family pet...(the dog!)

Mt. Isa has been a wonderful home-away-from-home. I can’t get over the people…not a bad one in the bunch – everyone’s got a story and I really think they’ve all acquired degrees in “Listening Skills: How to Converse Well in Any Setting”. Every person I’ve sat down with has been not only interesting, but so very interested in me as well! It’s nice to feel special…

So besides an off-day in which I suffered a headache from dawn until dusk, I have made the very most of my extra week here in Mt Isa. We went out dancing at The Irish Club, where, of all things, I was mistaken for Irish!? Now Stacey and I have discussed this in great detail. We are both mistaken for Irish at LEAST once a day. …what’s up with that laddie? Aye, it happens everywhere – all over Oz – even at The Irish Club, where you’d think they’d know their accents! Haha – I’ve actually agreed that I am Irish to a few folks (just for fun) and they nod their heads, confidingly, as though their deeply-routed suspicions are confirmed, and I am immediately acceptable and lovely – of course I usually get this response when I tell the truth about my Canadianism as well. My feeling is that Aussies are just extraordinarily accepting and they would give me a smile and a wink no matter what my nationality may be.

Mary Kathleen, North QLD

Mary Kathleen, North QLD

I had the pleasure of tagging along with Stacey and Pete to a wonderful engagement party. The event itself was more an extravaganza (set around a beautiful 25′ pool) than a traditional party. The food and drink were great, the couple looked lovely, and everyone had a great time! I was honoured, to not only be allowed to partake in the celebrations, but also welcomed with open arms. Again, the company was of the highest standard, we talked well into the night. I’m only surprised about one thing: no one ended up in the pool!

What else have I been up to? I’ve explored an abandoned uranium mine called Mary Kathleen. It’s just outside of town and just a short drive through the rolling red hills. The mine is now flooded and the water that fills it is the most inviting bright blue I’ve seen. There are only a few hidden signs on the way out there and they indicate that you will glow-in-the-dark if you decide to take a dip (I’m paraphrasing). The surrounding hillsActually, it’s quite interesting – there is still millions of dollars worth of uranium just waiting to be dug up, but it is currently illegal to mine the radioactive element in Queensland. Supposidly there is a push to change legislation. Until then, it remains a tiny blip on the map: a turn off, easily missed, and then an interesting maze-like off-road drive, to a site almost altogether forgotten. We threw rocks into the deep, taking enjoyment in the splashing, but soon stopped when we realized the rocks were shiny…is uranium shiny, we wondered?

A few other highlights – I enjoyed some great coffee with some great women at the McCafe (yes…it’s a cafe attached to McDonalds, and yes, it was good). I had a fun night-time tour of the city in which I enjoyed hearing about the more colourful details surrounding the local history. Mostly I just relaxed and got a better sense of the community. I can’t imagine not coming back… (and yes, I know that’s a double negative, thank you).

Theme songs of the Day:

Slice of Heaven – herbs, from the album Loyal …(This is a theme song from my entire month with Stacey – it’s on everywhere we go and EVERYONE gets up and dances to it).

My Baby Don’t Care – Nina Simone, from the album Little Girl Blue… (this one is for the Fairmont Gold Team, I sometimes listen to this and pretend I’m in the lounge)

Boston – Augustana, from the album Midwest Skies and Sleepless Mondays


Flooded Lake Moondara - from the wettest season in 10 years or so.

Flooded Lake Moondara - from the wettest season in 10 years or so.

Mt. Isa – the world’s largest city (the main street is 180km long and Mt Isa at Duskit’s city bounds encompass about the same square kilometers as Switzerland) has been a place of rest for me. Hanging out at Pete and Stacey’s has been relaxing and reviving all at the same time. It’s nice to be surrounded by all the comforts of home. We’ve been eating well and swimming in the pool…it’s been fantastic.

Sunrise at the Open-cut

Sunrise at the Open-cut

One of the highlights of my trip into the outback has included a personalized tour of the mine. Mt Isa is home of the largest mineral mining operation in the world – producing copper, silver, zinc and lead.  Pete has worked at the mines for eight years or so – he knows his stuff. We got up early and trekked off to work with him before sunrise. We had a couple of hours before the planned explosion later that morning, so we went on rounds and checked the whole above-ground portion of the mine for safety hazards. I assure you, I was not in charge of anything important (or, really, anything at all), but we looked quite official with our fluorescent orange shirts and hard hats; air masks hanging from our necks. Worried I may be mistaken for someone who could be counted on in an emergency, I made sure to wear a permanent look of confusion on my face….it was pre-coffee, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to look perplexed and out of place.

We passed huge dump trucks that have wheels twice the height of a person and cost $50,000-$70,000 each! The mine was bustling and it was not quite 6:00am. The detonation was meant to be medium-sized and we took our spots on the opposite side of the pit. I was nominated to set the detonation (being foreign and thus an awesome scapegoat lest thing go horribly awry). It took me two tries! I tell you: it’s hard to press both buttons simultaneously! Actually, due to either a bit of faulty wiring or debris landing on the second half of the detonation site, only the first half the explosion went off. It was still an impressive show and I can only imagine what it sounded like – and felt like – to the hundreds of workers underground.

So, besides the odd experimenting with explosives, this is the most down time I’ve had in months…maybe in years. Yup, definitely years. It’s nice to read again, and watch movies, and just lounge. I feel a little unfocused but that’s not such a bad thing. I’ve started to try to figure out what I’m going to do with my next few months. As of the end of the week I have very little planned. This is a big country – where do I go next? Maybe flight prices will be a determining factor?

The world is my oyster…raw, goopy, good with hot sauce, and brimming with the possibilities of a hidden pearl or two

Note – between the time I wrote this and started to post it (a matter of hours), I’ve decided to stay on another week. I’m not just claiming to love the Isa – I really do! The people here are exceptionally friendly and welcoming. I’ve already been offered a selection of places to stay if Stacey and Pete kick me out! (this actually may happen, as i could easily decide to stay indefinitely…haha…er, just kidding Stace…).
Theme Songs for the Day:
Ice Cream – Muscles, from the album Guns Babes Lemonade
Re: Your Brains – Jonathan Coultan, from the album Thing a Week III
Kamploops?...not Toronto or Montreal....only Vancovuer and Kamploops!  How random!?!

Kamloops?...not Toronto or Montreal....only Vancouver and Kamloops! How random!?!

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