Monday, February 24, 2014


Arlington Esplanade, Clifton Beach...I lived on the corner of the Esplanade and Clifton Beach Road
Smithfield Shopping Centre, Northern Beaches, Cairns
Smithfield and surrounding areas

Yorkeys Knob

Chillagoe Smelters

Chillagoe Marble

Ant Hill Hotel, Mareeba

Mareeba (A) to Chillagoe (B)

Chillagoe Landscape
Chillagoe Limestone Outcrops
Brolgas in the Mareeba-Chillagoe Wetlands

Out of the blue one Saturday morning a number of years ago – early 1990, to be more precise - when I was living at Clifton Beach I received a phone call from a friend I’d not seen for a while.

At the time I was working in a real estate office ”Inner Circle Realty”. My position was receptionist/secretary/property manager for rental properties on the northern beaches area of the tropical city of Cairns in Far North Queensland. Our Northern Beaches' office was situated in the Smithfield Shopping Centre, Smithfield.  My hours were Monday to Friday, 8.30 to 5 pm or thereabouts; and Saturday mornings until noon, or thereabouts.  The head office was in Lake Street, the city proper.
Shortly after 11 am, I received THE phone call from my friend, “Sprocket”.  I was surprised to hear his voice on the other end of the line.  I’d not seen nor heard from him for quite a while until his phone call that Saturday morning. I had a suspicion Sprocket may have been a distant relative of the Scarlet Pimpernel - "They seek him here, they seek him there..."

Warren was his given name, but he was rarely called anything other than “Sprocket”.  I’d met Sprocket a couple of years previously when I was living at Yorkeys Knob. Mutual friends who had known him for a long time asked me if I could put him up for a couple of weeks or so because he was homeless until the finalization of a property he was in the process of purchasing at Alligator Creek, south of Townsville.  At different stages Sprocket worked on a contract basis within my friends’ road building/airport tarmac construction/engineering company, so I trusted their judgment on his character. And he proved my trust was worthy.  He was a good bloke; and I enjoyed his company.

Sprocket drove a gleaming Kenworth Prime Mover. It pulled a rig equipped with around 12 axles and 8 tyres, or thereabouts. I really had no idea the exact number; suffice to say it was a lot - and it was a big monster!  

At the time of his surprise phone call Sprocket was hauling tanker-loads of lime to mines surrounding the township of Chillagoe on the Atherton Tables. The particular load of lime he toted that weekend was from an area a little south of Chillagoe to the Red Dome Mine, just north-west of the town.  The Red Dome Mine produced gold, silver and copper, along with myriad minerals that included, naming only a few, sulphides, oxides, fluorides, tungstate, silicates and carbonates. Stunning crystallized malachite and glorious quartz and azurite crystals joined the endless list of remarkable deposits.

With little preamble, Sprocket asked me if I’d like to go with him to Chillagoe that afternoon.  If I agreed to his invitation I was to meet him at Mareeba, another small Atherton Tablelands’ town, at a prearranged spot.  There I would park my car and jump aboard the Kenworth for the trip of my life.  Without hesitation, I accepted the plan presented to me.

“Yes!  I’d love to! What time will we meet up?”

I’d never been in a huge prime mover before; and I believed such an offer may never come my way again.  It sounded like an exciting adventure to me.  I’d never been to Chillagoe before, either.  The invitation I’d received sounded far more thrilling than the piece of corned silverside I planned to cook for myself that evening.

We agreed to meet at the corner opposite Mareeba’s Ant Hill Motel at 1 pm.  It didn’t leave me much time. Fortunately, it was a quiet morning in the office. After sharing my excitement at the thought of the adventure that lay in wait for me with my fellow workers, I bade them farewell. And then, sparing no horses, off I raced home to Clifton Beach to attend to my two cats, Pushkin and Rimsky; setting out enough food to cover them during my absence, which would only be 24 hours or so, but I wanted to ensure their needs were attended to. I packed a small bag of toiletries; changed my clothes and hit the road. 

The distance from Clifton Beach to Mareeba is approximately 60 kms (37 miles).  Being a stickler for punctuality I didn’t want to be late. I wasn’t, and neither was Sprocket. Within five minutes or so of my arrival at the pick-up spot he slowed to a stop slightly ahead of where I was parked.  The brakes sighed loudly as the compressed air applied pressure to the pads as the big rig came to a gentle stop. A fire-breathing dragon wouldn’t have been more impressive. At the sight of the Kenworth, my adrenaline increased.  I almost needed a ladder to climb aboard.  I felt like a kid on Christmas morning.  I couldn’t disguise my excitement, or my smile; nor did I care to do so.   

In the words of Willie Nelson, we were “On the Road Again” within minutes; Chillagoe, west of Mareeba, approximately 14kms (87 miles) away, our destination.

Shortly after leaving Mareeba the landscape changed quite drastically.  The lushness of the Atherton Tablelands very soon became a distant memory in the rear vision mirror. 

The landscape between Mareeba and Chillagoe is dry, tropical woodland with limestone outcrops.  The soil is pretty poor and the majority of times, other than during the December to March wet season, parched.  During the monsoon season the wetlands become alive with birds of all kinds that flock there drawn by their natural instincts; or the tom-tom drums.

Chillagoe, itself, has an interesting mining heritage, starting in 1870, but the smelters closed down in 1943, mainly due to the lack of manpower during the Second World War. Pastoral endeavours also played a large part in Chillagoe’s history. 

One thing that Chillagoe is famous for is marble from the extensive cave systems south of the small township. Marble quarries still operate, but in a smaller scale these days.  Chillagoe’s population at present is around 200; back in 1990 it was around 500; in 191 it was a raging 1497!

Travelling along in the big rig was seeing the world around me through different eyes…heightened eyes. I was so high up off the road!  I could see for miles and miles, much more than if driving along in my own car that was a little three-door Hyundai Excel Hatchback at the time.  I could see more than if I was cruising along in any normal vehicle, for that matter.  I felt I was on top of the world….a glorious new world!

We passed a little boy somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, he was  off a nearby cattle property; the road was his bicycling highway. He stopped pedalling and watched in awe as the big truck loomed down the road.  Sprocket blew the horn as we passed him (I’m not sure if he pressed a button or pulled on a lever); but the sound echoed loudly across the landscape.  I’ll never forget how it made that little bloke’s face light up.  If it had been night time, lights wouldn’t have been necessary.  I reckon the little kid would’ve told all his friends at school on the Monday about the special salute he received that afternoon; and it was something he’d never forget.  I’ve never forgotten that moment of witnessing the pure joy on a young lad’s face.

A little further along the road, Sprocket pulled off onto a side track.  After travelling along the track for about 15 minutes we finally came to a stop.  I can’t remember the name of the area, but it was deserted.  The dusty old sheds showed no signs of life other than us.  I discovered, when we came to a halt, it was where he intended loading the tanker with lime.  No wonder all the old shacks were dusty!

I remained in the cabin while Sprocket leapt to the ground.  I could see him fiddling about with large hoses and other paraphernalia; nothing that I could help him with – or so I thought!

He appeared at the driver’s side door.  “Move across to my seat…behind the wheel.” He said.

A little bemused, I did as I as I was bidden.

“Now, what I want you to do is…” continued Sprocket. “...I’m going to climb up on top of the tanker and control the hoses.  Watch me in the rear vision mirror, and when I signal and call out to you, I want you to reverse the truck so I can then put the hose into another outlet…and so on until I’ve completed filling up with the lime.”

“What?”  I exclaimed in shocked horror.  “You want me to operate this thing…this monster?  You must be joking!  This is the first time I’ve ever sat in one of these…these…things…and you now expect me to drive it…to reverse it!  That’s even worse!”

“You have to be bloody joking!” I repeated. “Or you have a death wish!”

“Nahhh! Don’t worry…it’s easy!  Here…all you have to do is this…it’s simple!” And Sprocket proceeded to show me what I had to do. 

I doubt I took a breath, but I did watch and listen diligently, not missing an instructive word he uttered.  He had faith in me.  All I had to do was find some within myself!

No breath was exhaled until I finished my delegated chore.  I kept a keen eye on Sprocket in the rear vision mirror as he climbed aboard the tanker.  With diligent, unwavering care, I followed his instructions to the letter…and more!  I didn’t want to lose him!  I was out in the middle of I knew not where.  

 If I lost him down one of the outlets on the top of the tanker, he’d be buried in lime; and I’d be stuck with a giant Kenworth prime mover and rig!   

The scenario was too scary to even briefly think about; so I blanked all negativity out of my mind. Determinedly, I gritted my teeth, and did what I had to do.   

The outcome was successful.  

 Sprocket neither became buried in lime, nor did I run him over.  Having not caused his demise, I felt very proud of myself, and considered a possible career change!

With a tanker loaded with lime, Sprocket climbed front of the steering wheel...ready to hit the road again; and me, feeling chuffed, back on the passenger seat. 

 We headed for Chillagoe…..


  1. Wow. I am a firm believer that I can do anything if I have to, but that would have worried me. A lot.
    I am looking forward to Chapter Two...

  2. Hi EC....after I got over the initial shock and panic...I just set my mind to the job and did it. Actually, Sprocket was was much easier than I thought once I was underway. It was a case of having to...I didn't like the alternatives! ;)

  3. OK, I am clearly still in fourth grade, but I am laughing my butt off: Is there really a place called "Yorkey's Knob?"

    I am impressed! That would have freaked me out. You are multitalented!

  4. It is true, RK...Yorkeys Knob is the area's name. If you find a previous post of mine dated Saturday, March 23rd, 2013...titled "When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie..." - you will see an explanation of the name:

    "Yorkeys Knob was named after George “Yorkey” Lawson, a beche-de-mer fisherman who originally hailed from Yorkshire. “Yorkey” gave up fishing and “beche-de-mering” for farming. In other words, one could perhaps say he became beached! As it happened, his agricultural venture failed because hungry rampaging bandicoots and wild pigs stormed across his fields, eating and destroying most of his crops; what was left over the crocs finished off!"

    You're not the first one to whom the name has caused amusement. :)

    Why am I not surprised at your laughter? lol

    I'm not sure about the multi-talented bit...probably more like prepared to accept a challenge, just for the hell of it! ;)

  5. Hell, Lee, you were braver than I would be...reversing a big rig? Not for this little black duck, thanks!

    I love spontaneity and have no hesitation in dropping whatever I'm doing if I get a more appealing offer. Imagine what one could miss!!

  6. Oh,you should write novels, that was such an interesting first line! I would love the chance to go along on a big rig. Years ago I used to hitch (although I wouldn't do it now) and got lifts in some big trucks, but nothing like those rigs, in fact it all seems small fry now I look back at it!!

  7. Do people really want to stay at a place called the Ant Hill Motel? Good for you, had it been me, he probably would have had to buy a new transmission at least.

  8. Hi Jenny...I wish I could write novels but I wouldn't know where to begin!

    When I was a teenager I, too, hitched...but that was a long time ago...that was then and this is now. These days it's a whole different world...unfortunately.

    Thanks for coming by. :)

  9. Crikey ... that would have taken some guts!

    And I agree with Jenny. You should indeed write novels. Think about it! You're so good at it after all :)

  10. G'day Dexter...I guess people do stay at the Ant Hill pub...good name! lol I didn't enter it, but I love the old-style country pubs...they have a charm and character of their own.

    Thanks for popping in. :)

  11. I just took a deep breath and tried not to dwell on it too much, and did what had to be done, Wendy. I had little other pride wouldn't let me not prove I could do it! ;)

    It would have to be autobiographical, Wendy...I don't think I could write'd ended up being based on fact. One day...maybe...

    Nice to see you as always. :)

  12. Sorry, Robyn...I thought I'd responded to your comment before this.

    I'm glad I did it, Robyn..the rig bit...I amazed myself! :)

  13. Sprocket! What a great name! I wonder how my niece would react if I tagged her baby son as Sprocket...
    I've ridden in a big rig, just once, we went from Port Augusta to somewhere near Woomera and back again after dropping off a load of something...bricks and stuff.

  14. That's so awesome that you did that. I would have been a little worried about doing that, too. :)

  15. Would you got into a little more detail on just what reversing the truck entailed? I am thinking that it involved backing up the truck/trailer a little bit so that the hose could reach another nozzle, but since I have never hauled any tankers like that, I really don't know what was involved.

    By the way, if I had of ever been in a position to buy a truck of my choice, I would have bought a Peterbilt, but a Kenworth would have been a close second. They are built by the same Canadian company, and as far as big trucks go, Peterbilts and Kenworths can be thought of as being Rolls Royces and Bentleys.

  16. G'day is a good name...and it didn't sound strange at all calling a person by that suited. :)

    That trip you did would've been very interesting, River.

    Thanks for dropping in. :)

  17. Hi Lynn...I never had the chance to do it again...not even another ride in a big I was glad I took the opportunity and chance. :)

  18. Hi Jerry...I've heard Kenworth prime movers are right "up there" in the world of big trucks.

    Yes...reversing the truck meant backing up a little at a time so the hose could be moved (manually by Sprocket) from one inlet/outlet on top of the tanker once that section had been filled with lime/ The inlets/outlets on the top of the tanker were approx 24 inches in diameter, at a wild guess. I didn't get that close to them and I was more concerned I didn't lose Sprocket down one of them; or off the tanker all together! ;)

    I can't remember how many there were...maybe four; and I have no idea how far apart they were.

    Nice to see you...thanks for popping in.

  19. It sounds like Sprocket may have really been from the planet of Scarlet Pimpernel. For it usually takes a practiced touch to let out the clutch without jerking the entire rig, and a good jerk could have sent him flying off of the top of that tanker. Anyway, I am glad that did not happen, and that you had such a good time truckin'.

  20. Well, I wasn't about to let that happen, Jerry. I followed his instructions carefully...and there was no jerking, thank goodness...and everything went very smoothly. I knew what I had to do...the Kenworth probably knew what to do with little help from me, anyway.

    I was extremely surprised just how smooth it was.

    I guess Sprocket had faith in me that I could do it...otherwise he wouldn't have put himself, or me at risk.

    We were both full of bravado back then! lol

  21. Cairns ~ I think you would enjoy living back here Lee :)

  22. Hi Carol...I probably would...but it would have to be at the northern beaches somewhere. I never actually lived in Cairns proper. I worked for a little while in Cairns, but most of the time I worked in the northern beaches as well as living there. And, other than the time I worked in the CBD, I rarely went into Cairns, spending most of my time at the beaches.

    It's a great area up there...surrounded by such beautiful areas to visit within easy reach...everyone, at least once in their lives should visit the Daintree and Cape Tribulation...God's country.

    Thanks for dropping in. :)

  23. Oddly enough (as I only recently found out myself) the air pressure on the big rigs holds the brake shoe off of the brake drum. Some kind of safely device, I guess, in case the rig loses pressure the brakes will work to stop the truck. This is why you will hear an escapement of air when they stop -- releasing pressure, applying the brakes.
    Ask sprocket if you don't believe me.

    Aren't surprises wonderful?

  24. I do believe you, goatman because I have since read about air brakes; and I should have written the pressure was being error; I will amend that. Until I read about the ins and outs of air pressure brakes, I had no idea how they still makes little sense to me even after reading and re-reading about them through Wikipedia. Remember...I am, after all, a mere female

    I know very little about the workings of a regular car, let alone a big rig.

    Thanks for popping in..:)

  25. It is correct that air pressure holds the brake pads off of the brake rotors, but losing all pressure will not bring a big rig to a halt while it is going down the road at a speed over just crawling along. On second thought, that is not entirely correct. For the rig will eventually come to stop after it burns to the ground from the brakes catching on fire.

    It is for that reason that truckers need to pay close attention to what they are doing while going down fairly steep grades. For every time they hit their brakes to keep their speed down below the limit, the brakes pads heat up and they lose a little air pressure. If they do that too often, the air compressor may not be able to keep up, the brakes pads will start looking like a lit charcoal briquette and immediately burst into flames as soon as there is no longer enough air pressure to hold them off of the brake rotors.

    The closest I ever came to catching my brakes on fire was going down Black Mountain in the western part of North Carolina one sunny afternoon, which was plumb embarrassing. For the grade isn't all that steep, and it was strictly on account of me not paying enough attention that smoke was soon coming off of my trailer brakes.

    Be assured that I was absolutely thrilled when I finally made it into a truck with a jake-brake. The correct name for the device is a Jacobs engine brake, which slows down individual cylinders in the truck engine and saves the brakes by reducing the speed of the truck. If you have ever heard a big truck make an extra-loud rumbling sound as it was coming to a stop or slowing way down, you were hearing the jake-brake engage as soon as the driver to his foot off of the gas (so to speak). Rookies and idiots will often keep them turned on when there is no need in an effort to call attention to themselves, and when more seasoned truckers hear one in a parking lot or at a traffic light, it is customary for them to say out-loud (even when they are alone) "I sure wish I had a jake-brake." and then let out a deep sigh while patting the switch on the dashboard to their own. Okay, I suppose one would have to be there.

  26. Thanks for that, Jerry.

    As I said in my response to goatman; I read about the workings of air brakes when I was writing my story in attempt to show the tiniest bit of intelligence about them (and I still got it wrong!).

    Reading about how it all works still made little sense to me, as is quite evident.

    But you, because of your trucking experience have explained it in a way I can thanks for that. :)

    My lack of knowledge in the workings of a big rig is why I was so intent on taking on board everything Sprocket told me that day when he asked to to reverse the rig at his signals to move the hose from outlet to outlet. It was imperative that I did so.

    And as he's still alive, I was a good listener; a fast learner, and a satisfactory operator/reverser! lol

  27. Yep, you really did do a good job back then. I have tried to forget it, but every once in a while I will flash back to the first time I let out on the clutch of a big truck. I didn't break any teeth, but my face smacked against the dash after the back of my head slammed back against headrest of the seat from me letting out the clutch way too fast. If the truck had of been a conventional (as opposed to being a cabover) I might have popped a wheelie, which is frowned upon in the trucking community.

  28. Jerry...I can tell heart was pounding, that's for sure...but sometimes you just have to take that deep breath and do it; and I'm glad I did. I never had the opportunity again...which is probably just as well! Sometimes that kind of bravado only comes around once! lol

  29. What a great story!
    That sounds just like a story from Australia, "Nah, you can do it, no worries, mate..." that kind of thing...and then, you can!
    My sister lived in Australia for a year or so in the early 1990's, and I have always wanted to see it for myself!
    (She worked at a ski resort in Thredbow, I think it was called...and she went all over Australia!)

  30. Hello there, was a case of "She'll be right, mate!" A steely resolve was required! ;)

    We all have times in our lives that we surprise ourselves at what we can do...we never know until we try! ;)

    Yes...Thredbo is a ski resort down in the Snowy Mountains, about 500ks south of Sydney, New South Wales

    It attracts lots of visitors during the winter months to its long ski runs when the mountain is snow covered. During summer the activities change to rock-climbing, abseiling, fishing, hiking etc. It's a popular tourist area.

    I'm sure your sister had a great time when she was here.

    Nice to see you....thanks for coming by.

  31. Yep a truckers life for you!

  32. And don't take trucking advice from Jerry, he's dangerous!

  33. Duly noted...on both counts, Adullamite....