Today was an early start we got up and had a quick breakfast before hitting the blacktop further north to the Three Ways turn off and the turn east onto the Barkly Highway. Mt Isa is around 650km from Tennant Creek, and it would be a full-day drive to get there. The trip was largely uneventful as we drew further north and then East. The green pushed away the red from the desert, and we steadily moved into bush followed by grassy cattle country.
We arrived at Mt Isa earlier than I had expected around 2:30pm and continued the trip further east, in one pamphlet we’d picked up. We saw that the Walkabout Creek Hotel from the Crocodile Dundee movie was in a place called McKinlay and with a couple more hours on the road, we could reach it and stay the night. I called ahead and yes there were plenty of rooms, but it was single beds and shared facilities; this sounded like it could be interesting. We arrived in McKinlay slightly after 5 pm. The place was like a ghost town. The old houses were falling down on the single cross roads with the highway and there was a roadhouse which looked like it was a de-mountable, a pub across the street that looked a little different. The buildings were sparsely located in between the large plots of tall grass littered with the junk of a former past.
We called in at the pub, entering the bar. The first thing that was apparent was emptiness. Just empty, no tables or chairs, no people, only high stools around the bar. It was a long building with paraphernalia around the walls and on the rafters, and at the far end the one piece of furniture was a pool table.
We organised our room to find we would be the only people in that accommodation for the night, and that we had to drive up the street about 300 yards to find it. We promised to come back for a drink and headed out to find our room. As I got out of the truck to unhook the wire that held the green steel gates together, there was a creepy feeling. It felt like I was in a Steven King book. The wind howled, and there was a banging and squeaking from somewhere. Defined by a post and wire fence, the compound consisted of two sets of transportable rooms in an L shape. The River Gum green buildings had solid walls with just a door in the front and a concrete block outside to act as a step. The room was a square box with two single beds along both side walls, with a standard air conditioner inserted in the wall above one bed. No other furniture was in the room.
Opposite this complex was a row of buildings that comprised shared bathrooms and toilets for both sexes. These were clean and well maintained. Clothing and gear unloaded into the cabin, we wandered off to eat at the roadhouse. Once we’d consumed the barely eatable burgers, we returned to the bar to drink. By the time we got there, the bar population had been swollen to three, including the owner. We made it five; we ordered a drink and wandered around reading the material on the walls. There was little else to do.
During the evening, three more people turned up for a drink and a meal, and that was it for a Saturday night. I asked the publican if it was normally this busy on a Saturday; he told me he had been full for months, and over the last few day’s trade had dropped off completely but from Tuesday, he’s booked solid again. He said the strong business in mining companies combined with an accommodation shortage meant he profited well out of the trade.
We wandered off to bed before 9 pm to get an early start on the road the next day.