I’ve been conversing on the phone with the Volunteer
Coordinator for the annual Tablelands Folk Festival, where my students will be
volunteering next month, and I told him that I would be out of the office for a
few days because I would be in Chillagoe with the group. “Ah, Chillagoe will be magical,” he told me.
It was my second trip to Chillagoe and it was pretty magical the first time—our end-of-the-semester celebration when all of my SIT coursework was finished and our big SIT family was all present and all in love. It was quite a new experience the second time around. I had worries that did not exist the first time, including but not limited to driving a standard vehicle for several hours (my first long drive), keeping 29 students happy and hydrated in the blistering heat, and the fact that the pub owner thought we were coming on Wednesday instead of Tuesday and therefore did not prepare the meals we had ordered. It was time to truly absorb the Australian pieces of wisdom “No worries” and “She’ll be right.” All in all, it did turn out alright, and one of the vans didn’t quite overheat and the students all got down safely from the large rocks that I wished they hadn’t climbed.
We go to Chillagoe to give the students a taste of the outback and to experience a different climate and setting from the lush, humid rainforest where we live. John, our Site Manager, said, “If you look west from Chillagoe, you see nothing all the way to the Indian Ocean,” so it’s sort of the last stop before all of the arid desert land begins. Once we set out from Mareeba, we were in kangaroo country, and unfortunately saw more dead ones than live—they get hit by cars as easily as deer do at home. Watching the red sand, rocky outcrops, and sparse woodland slide past my window showed a different Australia than I’m used to at the Centre.
Chillagoe is known for its beautiful caves, one of which is about eleven kilometers from entrance to exit. We took a tour of a slightly smaller one, which still took about 40 minutes to walk through. Our guide showed us huntsman spiders and false floors, stalagmites and stalactites, sleeping bats and sparkling stone. The coolness of the cave offered a nice respite from the oppressive heat above ground. After exploring the caves, we spent some free time before sunset at Balancing Rock, a site I remembered well from my previous visit. The colors of Chillagoe are what stand out in my memory. All that red rock and drab dust contrasts with the blue blue sky and all the green of the vegetation growing in spite of the dry climate.
We actually sang songs around the campfire as one large group before camping under a starry sky—what more could any trip leader ask for? This group dynamic is stellar. The following day we toured around the area, visiting smelter and savannah, before ending at a cool blue swimming hole, the perfect end to any field class.