We had been as far north as Cooktown, and were driving back south along the edge of the outback, listening to an eclectic mixture of North African pop, Mexican baroque, Bob Dylan and blues music.
On the way we passed through towns and settlements which seemed to consist of a few houses, a petrol pump and a general store selling mainly canned goods, dropping out of cellphone coverage for a couple of hundred kilometres at a time. While we did go through a couple of places with white lines and traffic lights, in the main it was just us and the emptiness of the west.
And the we came to Injune.
On paper it should just be a place like the rest, and certainly the service station consisted of a single pump offering a choice of diesel or economy 91 unleaded, but the town sported a new well stocked supermarket, a newsagent with big city newspapers, a pharmacy, a bank, and a cafe with staff like you see in a city, wearing fashionable tee shirts and making decent coffee.
This seemed a puzzle, as to why a little bit of the urban fringe had been dropped into the stark emptiness of the central west of Queensland, until half a dozen fourwheel drives leased by Santos arrived, and groups of gas survey and drilling workers piled out to order full cooked breakfasts and long blacks.
Gas money. Injune had by luck become a centre for coal seam gas work, and as we drove south there were turns off the sealed road, orange dirt tracks to places without names, only known as rig 27 or drillsite 33.
In a sense this is not surprising. While Cooktown is famous as the place on the Endevour river where James Cook beached his boat for repairs after rather too close an encounter with the Barrier Reef, before the 1870’s it was nothing, a place with a few shanties for trepang fishermen.
And then gold was discovered on the Palmer River and Cooktown became a boomtown going from nothing to a town with hotels, bars, brothels, two newspapers, and direct steamship services to Brisbane and Guangzhou to transport would be miners and migrants. There was even a convent school, now the Cooktown museum, staffed by nuns specially imported from the west of Ireland.
They even started building a railway line to the gold diggings at Maytown – a very nineteenth century solution.
In the event the railway line only ever got halfway to Maytown, to Laura before the gold ran out. Maytown no longer exists and Laura is an empty place with a pub, a petrol station and a general store acting mainly as a truck stop on the road to the mines at Weipa and further north.
Cooktown is itself a sparse place, seemingly too small for its size with old buildings, including a grand old pub, and empty blocks where one there was something. It also sports a cannon from the Napoleonic wars, sent north to help defend it from possible Russian attack in the 1880’s – just one – and probably completely useless as a deterrent.
And looking at Cooktown and Laura, you can see that one day Injune will shrink back on itself, the bank and the pharmacy will close and the supermarket will go back to being a basic general store, but for the moment the good times are rolling, and there’s a cafe with decent coffee and people to sit and read newspapers in it