Nancy and Tony Bates at the lookout.
Nancy and Tony Bates at the lookout. Contributed

Lawn Hill is a ‘must’ for every Australian traveller

OPINION: Lawn Hill should be on every Australian's must-do list, along with the Sydney Harbour, Uluru and the banyan tree in Maryborough's Queens Park.

Mesmerised Swiss couple Emilie and Gabriel, raised in the revered mountain scenery of Heidi, stood with us on the gorge lookout and declared the view stunning, even if John Prince and the boys were no longer watering the lawns.

Lawn Hill, now known as Boodjamulla, can be reached by traversing about 100 km of unsealed road from Gregory Downs Hotel, 118km south of Burketown.

A mainly unsealed road north from Mt Isa is about 320km.

Barren land shoulders you past the massive Century mine to Adel's Grove, a shady resort that has arisen in remnants of a 1920s Queensland government experiment with growing tropical fruits in a garden watered from Lawn Hill gorge.

Frenchman Albert de Lestang, who was to give the letters of his name to Adel, was commissioned to do the work.

He grabbed a shovel and dug a network of irrigation channels to water his fruit trees and a market garden so he could sell his produce to the community around the Burketown mines.

By 1939 he had about 1000 botanical specimens transplanted to the arid outback from the dunes of Saudi Arabia and the forests of Asia, Africa and the Amazon.

Presumably the war fouled up the experiment and Adel's Grove turned into a pretty tourist stop about 12km from the fabulous gorge.

We had been there about 27 years ago when Adel's Grove was run by a couple of characters escaping from the hurly-burly of hectic life in Burketown (population then about 200).

They sold supplies from old cupboards in an open-sided building that included a view of their double bed.

It is a little upmarket now with a caravan park but cheaper accommodation is at the gorge itself, where National Parks has made life a tad more rustic than it used to be.

The refreshing green lawns are no longer there because, said Ranger John, they had discovered that watering the camping ground three times a week killed off some of the native trees that like to be dry for six months of the year.

The hot showers are now cold showers because, said John, the hot water system attracted too many wasps and parents couldn't control kids who tinkered with the fires in the donkey boilers (a water-heating system usually consisting of a drum of water mounted above a fire).

So now the rangers don't have to water lawns or chop wood for the donkey boiler.

Giant tame catfish have also disappeared from the emerald waters of the gorge. Apparently they made it on to the menu during an Aboriginal sit-in protest at Lawn Hill when the Century mine was evolving.

Still the allure of Lawn Hill, remains. Again we swam, canoed, walked and absorbed the wildlife, which included the loud night grunts of a humping kangaroo.

Boodjamulla, given to the nation by Lawn Hill Station, bursts out of the majestic rock landscape blazed red and all shades of gold.

Startling emerald water is fringed with jade foliage.

Higher up, stark white trunks on gum trees contrast with clustered leaves straddling 50 shades of green, from lime to sage. Brilliant blue in the sky backdrop emphasises the 3D view.

Yes, said Emilie and Gabriel, taking photos and climbing into precarious positions to pose at the gorge lookout.

Their country indeed has spectacular scenery "but nothing like this".

The lurid landscape is a luxuriant, tantalising tail-flick of a rainforest that covered the region when the climate was wetter. Marsupial lions, carnivorous kangaroos, pythons with girths the size of dinner plates and Big Bird roamed the fabulous land and obligingly left their bones to excite archaeologists in the 1920s.

Riversleigh Station donated to the nation Site D, one of the world's premier fossil sites.

About 50km down a gravel road from the gorge, you can walk around the rocks and see bits of 300 prehistoric animals that lived there 20 million years ago.

Information boards give a comprehensive overview of the Australia that was and explain why so much was preserved.

Most impressive is Big Bird, also known as a thunderbird and found only in Australia.

He stood about 2.5m and weighed 250 to 300kg.

You can admire a decent thigh bone, honeycombed for strength, and a cascade of gizzard stones still exposed in the rock as you ponder the evolution of our grand land and wonder if climate change will spawn a new thunderbird.

The tripod of Lawn Hill, Adel's Grove and Riversleigh is a window to another world.

It should be on every Aussie's travel list.

Nancy Bates, who is travelling with husband Tony in Isabel the Global Warrior, reports from the trail of the grey nomads. For more travel yarns check http://nancybates.weebly.com/off-with-isabel.html