Getting to the dig site was almost as much of an adventure as doing the dig. The dig is 1,400km (1 km = .6 mi) northwest of Brisbane, just outside Winton, Queensland (pop. 300). Australia uses the logical and almost globally accepted metric system, so I plan to use metric measurements for the rest of my posts.
The route to Winton is along two major highways (the Warrego and the Matilda). They take you across the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5 degrees south latitude) where there is the obligatory opportunity to stand with parts of your body on both sides of the latitude line.
Major highway really means two-lane roads with wide shoulders and broad vistas. Wide shoulders are useful for several reasons. 1) You can see the kangaroos bounding across the road that much sooner – not that it helps much as you saw in my last post. 2) They provide wide fire breaks for the inevitable bush fires that regularly occur – fortunately we saw none, but did see ranchers setting controlled fires to make the fire break even wider. 3) They allow you to drive on the shoulder to overtake (their work for “pass”) wide loads on the road.
We think this was a shearing shed being moved to a new location.
During my 500 km as the driver, the shoulders also provided mental security when confronted with the 50-meter-long truck trains barreling down the road toward us – closing at a combined speed of 220 km/hour. The compression wave they produce pushes you a good meter toward the shoulder of the road. I decided it was best not to get a photo during an actual encounter with a truck train.
Near the dig, the roads turn to one lane roads, but you still encounter truck trains.
Finally we turn off the road into the sheep and cattle paddocks and head for our home-away-from-home — the shear’s quarters and shearing sheds. A typical sheep/cattle station (the Australian word for ranch) in this part of the country is 30,000 to 50,000 acres with about 10,000 animals. They talk about the number of acres per animal rather than the number of animals per acre. Farther west in Queensland the stations get as big as 100,000 acres and still raise the same number of sheep/cattle.
The main diggers are 12 “volunteers” who pay $3,300 for the privilege to spend a week digging in the dirt, sweating profusely, swatting at flies and using a dunny (port-a-potty), . I am sure they would pay more – I know I would – to be able to walk across a field and pick up hundreds of 100 million-year-old dinosaur bones (more on this in my next post)
The paying diggers get the high-class accommodations – the rooms where the shears bunk (two people per room). Graeme and I – the non-paying guests — get to sleep in the sheep pens, just next to where they shear the sheep.
But the view is well worth the money.
After storing our gear and getting safety instructions – wear a wide-brimmed hat, drink plenty of water, use plenty of sun screen and use it often, stay away from the cattle and sheep, look out for the poisonous spiders and snakes, and don’t get in the way of the front loader when it clears away the two meters of top soil – we head off to the dig. More about this in the next blog.
Final update on the election: After 17 days, the four independent MPs (Members of Parliament) split their votes so that Labor has support from 76 of the 150 MPs – the minimum number needed to form a government. Much like Obama selecting Clinton as Secretary of State, Julia Gillard (the unmarried female atheist Prime Minister) selected Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister she deposed earlier this year but who is still an elected MP, to be her Foreign Minister. That way he will be out of the country much of the time. Many hope the minority government will be a success. Many predict a new election within a year.