Outback MagazineOutback Magazine


To the gates of hell

Following the tracks of the Palmer River gold prospectors, a party of offbeat travellers and their donkeys take on the aptly named Hell's Gate, in north Queensland.

Story and photos Neal Sellars

ImageHell's Gate: forbidding name, forbidding reputation. But it lured gold-hungry miners as the quickest way to the rich Palmer River Goldfield from Cooktown. In 1874 it was easy to get to Cooktown; all you needed was the money for the boat fare from a southern port. To get from there to the Palmer was another story. Many chose to go through the aptly named Hell's Gate. The trip can still be done – by donkey if you like.

Any visions of a quiet, idyllic stroll leading compliant donkeys are destroyed on day one. Tim is trialling a young donkey, Wing Nut, as a pack animal. All goes well for a while, but then Wing Nut is spooked by something, who knows what, and takes off. After three destructive hours – destructive of his pack, his saddle, Mick's calf muscle (unfortunately forcing his return to Laura and leaving Tim in sole charge of the expedition), and the party's collective calm – Wing Nut is lured back into the bosom of his family of well-behaved donkeys. He has destroyed or shed most of his load, including the only cask of port, which saturated the food in that saddlebag. Wing Nut is surreptitiously renamed 'Screw Loose', but no one says that to his face. The errant donkey seems traumatised, and spends the rest of the trip being led along, unloadedStory end

Full story Issue 33, Feb/Mar 2004.

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