Highbury to Normanton
The challenge of the Burke Development Road for push bikers like us comes down to one critical ingredient: water.
We had stuffed the panniers to capacity with food and had enough to last weeks. Plenty long enough to reach the next shop at Normanton. Water, however, is very heavy and we need lots of it. Roughly 16–20 litres a day keeps our family alive and pedalling. We had consistent advice that any flowing river water (Walsh, Lynd, Mitchell and Gilbert) would be fine to drink. The pits on the side of the road that cattle drink from were also possibly okay but opinion varied on these, and some had crocodiles in them.
As a little backstop plan we took up an offer from Ian and his wife who were driving through from Chillagoe on the day we departed. They agreed to drop off bottles of water, a bag of oats, metho, Milk Arrowroot Biscuits and a jar of golden syrup in a bag at the Staaten River. That was over half way along the road and seemed a good spot to have a cheerful food and water drop. After the excitement of visiting Highbury and the mustering camp we headed off to find our stash. Past Dunbar Station (where we dropped in to say a quick hello, and ended up staying for lunch and leaving with five steaks) we rode through some roadside regeneration fires. As we approached the sign for the Staaten River we noticed a smouldering pile of water bottles flickering with a few plastic flames. The food drop was on fire. Nic raced over and salvaged half a dozen milk arrowroots before dousing the flames. Wilfy wailed about why anyone would light our food on fire, thinking it was very unfair of them. The golden syrup, quite a totemic symbol of luxury lost by this stage, had suffered a melted lid which had drained half of it away. We siphoned the contaminated remainder into a water bottle and wondered if the dumplings would suffer badly as a result. They were delicious, we had all sorts of kindnesses from fellow travellers (thanks to our Mackay area caravan troupe and James from Cairns) and road workers (thanks Dale) and arrived at Normanton after 12 days from Chillagoe.
By the time this story is published we’ll be on the road to Burketown as we head west to the Northern Territory.