June 6


We left the Cairns Queenslander Hotel at 7:30 a.m. and started our three-hour bus ride to Chillagoe.  We were fortunate enough to see some of Australia’s famous wild life during the trip.  We saw a wallaby, ridiculous amounts of termite mounds, a mob of kangaroos on a golf course, a wedge tailed eagle, and someone even found a praying mantis in a rest stop bathroom.  Paul, our driver, is an expert on all things related to Australia, and he cracked many eggs of knowledge during our time on the road.  He told us the astounding fact that all of the termites in the world add up to be heavier than all of the humans in the world.  He also spoke about how termite mounds are a great way to test the quality and fertility of the soil because the termites do all of the work by piling the soil up above ground making it possible to retrieve a soil sample without digging. 

We arrived at Chillagoe and met up with Fred, our cave tour guide.  We toured the Trezkinn Cave, which is full of limestone deposits that are derived from reefs and sediments from around 400 million years ago.  The caves were originally formed from the movement of underground water along the cracks and joints of the limestone.   The tour started with narrow stairways and passages, which led us into the main part of the cave. Fred pointed out several bats into the cave and also showed us some pretty big spiders. He explained that spiders have a reflective layer on two of their eyes and by holding a flashlight near your head and pointing it you can see the reflections of spider eyes in the form of two small shiny dots.    

We left the caves and headed to the Chillagoe Smelter, which was in use from around 1900 to 1943. It was a center for the thriving mining industry and it brought wealth and expansion to the Chillagoe area. The smelter was primarily used to produce copper, lead, silver, and gold.  

We left the smelter and headed to our lunch at the Post Office hotel in Chillagoe. The student group from Texas A&M ate their salads while drooling at the sight of our enormous hamburgers. We left lunch, and after listening to some very farfetched “tall tales” from Paul while on the road, we arrived at the Tyrconnell Outback Experience and Historic Goldmine and were greeted with 90°F heat.   We met Kate, Andy, and their three young boys who were named Tom, Jono, and Nick. We all would have thought that we were in the “Outback” but Kate said that Tyrconnell was considered technically to be in the “bush” instead of being in the Outback. She also said that the “Outback is a state of mind or feeling, not a place.” Their family of five lives in an old gold mine area, in a town that once had a population of 10,000 and now has a population of nine.  

Kate was originally from Adelaide and has since lived in Los Angeles, Cairns and Perth before moving to her current home where she has been for thirteen years.  She is an art restorer by trade, and got into the tourism business when she couldn’t find work in Cairns.  She laughs at thinking that she used to live in one of the biggest cities in the world and now lived thirty-five minutes from civilization in the Australian bush.  

Kate, Andy and the boys live very sustainable lives by utilizing their climate and  using solar power and also using rainwater and water from the dam.  Twenty-two solar panels worth $45,000 supply the majority of their power, and the total cost was made much smaller because the government gave them a 50% rebate for their solar system purchase because they live far from the grid.  They have their doors open year round and that keeps their house at a comfortable temperature, at least for people who are used to the year round heat. Rain collection basins for drinking water are used both at the house and also down near the campsite.  

Their income comes solely from tourism, and they really love what they do.  They get about 1,800 visitors per each tourist season, which for them runs from Easter through December. They commute thirty five minutes to Dimbulah two days a week for the three boys to attend a public school where they can interact with other kids and play sports, something that they can’t do the three days a week that they are homeschooled.  On the three days that they are homeschooled, Kate teaches with the aid of home school lesson plans that are free to them and cost families that live in school districts roughly $1,500 per year.  On home school days, they have speakerphone learning sessions where the boys can listen to their teachers and classmates and participate while staying at home and sitting in their separate schoolroom.  The boys even partake in school orchestra and have practice over the phone on home school days, and have two concerts a year with all of their classmates.  

Kate handed us over to Andy, who gave us a tour of the gold mine equipment and talked to us about his time there.  The gold rush started in the 1870s when James Mulligan found a species of Eucalypt tree in the area that he thought was an indicator of gold.  Andy’s family moved to mine in 1982 and ran the mine for eighteen months until they sold it. Andy bought a lease back in 1990 in 1992.  There is still equipment there from the last time the mine was active, but today it is only used for tourism purposes. 

All of the mining equipment used to crush quartz to find gold looked like it hadn’t been used in decades and the whole group was shocked when Andy turned it on to show us how the crushing process works.   This gold rush was different from many other gold rushes around the world because the gold was found within quartz and rocks, and not in nugget form.  The old machines could only crush a ton or two of quartz a day, and modern crushers can crush thousands of tons of quartz per day.  The gold would attach to mercury or cyanide, both of which could be purchased at the chemical shop in Cairns back then before the modern era of terrorism, and today these products are very hard to get a hold of by the average individual.  

For dinner, Andy cooked up delicious steaks and made potatoes and salad. We had for raspberry pavlova for dessert, which is an Australian cake dish made with meringue and fruit with a crispy crust.   After dinner, most of the group worked on class papers for a while and then sat around the bonfire before preparing for bed.  Being away from civilization and city pollution, the stars were brighter that night than I have ever seen.  It is incredible to see the stars so intense and also to see different stars and constellations than we see at home in the northern hemisphere.  Most of the group slept in the tents while nine of the guys, including myself, decided to sleep outside under the stars.  We slept in  swags, which are mattress pads inside a zippered canvas casing that protects from the morning dew.  We slept in sleeping bags inside of our swags and those of us who fit completely inside of the swags woke up warm and dry.  

We had a great time at the Chillagoe Caves, Tyrconnell Outback Experience, and sleeping under the stars.  


The group enjoying a delicious steak dinner

The great sunset view we had on our pre-dinner hike

Andy talking to us about the mine

Kate showing us a map of the mine

Chillagoe Smelter

Bat in Trezkinn Cave

Bat in Trezkinn Cave

The MSU group around a bonfire

Spider in Trezkinn Cave

The tents where most of the group slept






  1. Mark – how do these falls compare to Niagra or Multanomah Falls in Oregon? Also, don’t tell me if you see a python in the caves….gives me the creeps. 🙂

    • Hey Mom, we actually didn’t go to the Barron falls in Tyrconnell. This was the blog that I wrote before leaving to give everyone an idea about what we would be doing on my day. Apparently the river is dry this time of year so the waterfalls look more like a cliff. So we didn’t make it to Barron Falls, but we still went on the cave tour at Chillagoe. We didn’t see any snakes in the cave, but we saw plenty of bats and big spiders. Our guide, Fred, showed us that if you hold a light close to your head and look for small reflections, like cat eyes, you can find where spiders are hiding because they have reflective eyes. I will be posting my actual blog with more info and pictures from yesterday sometime tomorrow so stay tuned.

  2. EEEEK!! Spiders? How did you manage this particular tour Rudy?!? Love! Mom

    • HEY MOM! Yeah the spiders were a little too intense for me. I’ve seen quite a few ridiculously sized and colored arachnids since I’ve been here. One called a “Red Back” was even wielding a lethal bite (Don’t worry because once it was spotted I was far away haha). A interesting technique to spot spiders that Fred taught us was if you hold a torch (flashlight) right next to your head at about eye level and scan the ground, you will see a pretty obviously a bright greenish reflection of the spider’s eyes. I was amazed at how easy and how good it worked. Later that night when we were at the mine and we were walking back down to our shags, I remembered the technique. All I can say is that I wish I never was taught how to do it, because I had to have spotted at least ten spiders before I had to give the torch to someone else. Anyway, the stars were completely worth it and I at least didn’t feel any spiders around me when I was sleeping.

      Can’t wait to see you again and I hope everything is great back at home in GR,

  3. I had a blast visting Kate and Andy and was happy to see that they were able to support the majority of their energy needs as well as visitor’s needs using solar power. I found it extremely interesting that appliances that use heat such as irons and toasters would crash the system if used and that Andy had to run a diesel fueled generator while using them.

  4. After breakfast, a couple of us observed as 5-year old Jono participated in his “phone lesson” with about five other home schooled children living in the bush. It was so interesting to observe the structure of the lesson and how Jono interacted with the students he had never even met before. Since I was homeschooled for two years in elementary school, I found it extremely interesting to see the “modern” forms of homeschooling, even way out in the Australian bush, miles from any large city.

  5. Hilarious Mark. Many good experiences enhanced by Paul’s tall tails!!!

  6. Swagging under the stars was definately one of the coolest things I can say I have done, and the stars looked extraordinary in the bush area we were in, I have never seen so many stars in my life. The only thing that sucked about the swags was the fact that when we went down to them after we worked on our papers they were already soaked with morning dew, and it was not even midnight yet haha

  7. Adding to Seans, sleeping in swags was awesome! It was like sleeping in a bivy in the USA. I wish we could have had more days in the open air, it was completely wonderful. Kate and Andy are living a wonderful life in the bush and live quite comfortably, I wish I could live that way when I am older.

  8. In Australia, if you live a certain distance away from a town you are given a medical kit for free. Even if we had been bitten by poisonous snakes or spiders, they probably would have had something in the medical kit to help us. I know that fact made me feel better while I was walking in the dark down the path to the tents where we were sleeping.

  9. After seeing so many homes here in Australia running off of solar power and recycling rainwater for drinking and other purposes it makes me wonder why more people aren’t eager to do so at home. By using renewable energy you reduce costs and the government provides rebates to lower the start up costs, making it a viable option for many people. While several of the places we visited were off the grid, it would be an option for many people back home to sell back abundant energy to the power company since we are already hooked up to the grid. While these are fairly major ways of becoming sustainable I’m anxious to share other ways with friends and family that can be done in our everyday lives, like recycling, using reusable water bottles, and using reusable bags at the grocery store.

  10. One of the things that I this is really intersting in most places here is how you can drink the rain water. I have noticed it in other places like kangaroo island but being at tryconnel I guess I noticed it more than usual. They had huge matal vats that collected the rain watere that we were able to drink. It was weird to think that we can do that here because its clean enough. Kate was telling us how they had to clean the roofs every so often so the water would stay clean. I think being in the outback also made me realize how important water is to them. Kate was telling us about days when those tanks would actually be empyt and they would have to wait for another rainfall. Also the tanks were made so that you could actually padlock the taps so no one could steal your water! That really made me realize how importat water is to that part of this country. It was so dry and dusty that it was unreal. Although it was an amazig place you would definitely need to get use to being in dry heat to live there.

  11. Another thing I think is great is that most of the places we have visited are very open. Windows and doors are usually wide open, if there even is a door. I think it’s incredible that the climate here is great, they can leave their house open all year round. It really gives you a different sense of feeling, being able to see and feel the earth around you. I felt so much more connected to nature while staying in the bush with Kate and Andy. It was amazing.

  12. Our experience at Tyrconnell was definitely one of my favorite things we did the whole trip. After our guide Paul explained to us that we would be staying with a vicious group of hippies, Andy, Kate, and their three boys were unexpected surprise. Their open-air, family orientated lifestyle really opened my eyes to the unique lifestyles many Australians choose to live. This lifestyle definitely had its downsides, like electricity limitations, distances to any available medical facilities, and the lack of a real social life. That being said Andy and Kate were some of the happiest people I have ever met, and were lucky enough to be living on such beautiful land. Kate repeated several times that even after 13 years she never gets tired of looking up at the beautiful sky at night. Everybody, especially the swag boys, will remember how peaceful and serene that night was for the rest of our lives. Another successful day for MSU Study Abroad 2010!!!

  13. This day was a true Australian day. We had a chance to see one of the oldest Mine towns that was formed in 1870’s. We also got a chance to see how they used to get gold of quartz rocks. They had one of the only diesel running machince that was used to extract gold back in the day. Then we had a chance to really be sustaniable in a sense of living out side with noting but the stars above and a warm campfire to keep us warm at night. This was one of the best days I can say it was kinda of damp because of the dew in the mourning but overall it was great experince. The fact that we were just staying in the real Outback of Australia

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