Road travel on Cape York Peninsula can be a challenge, what with the corrugated roads, the sometimes hairy water crossings, and the chance of a sudden change in the weather leaving you stranded.
But it’s worth all of that and more to see this wonderful area at ground level, to get well off the beaten track and share the adventure with your fellow travellers. Along the Cape York Road, there are regular opportunities to pull up and have a yarn with other folk making the journey. This is one of the real pleasures of Cape York travel, meeting people who share your enthusiasm for the journey and sharing your road stories.
So here we are in October 2011 at the Archer River Roadhouse. About 200km from Weipa, somewhere to buy fuel, stay the night, or eat one of its famous burgers. Pulling in to the clearing out the front of the roadhouse, I felt like we had just arrived at an oasis.
It’s a great spot. We met Ted and Judy having smoko at the roadhouse and got yarning with them. They were guiding a couple of overseas visitors up the Cape, something Ted has done many times before. My ears pricked up when Ted told us he had met one of the legends of Cape York Peninsula, Toots Holzheimer.
Ted mentioned Toots Holzheimer, a pioneer in so many ways. She drove trucks on Cape York for about 30 years from the early 60s. She was a mother of eight kids, delivered freight in all kinds of weather, building and renewing roads and bridges with her husband Ron. In those days, this was man’s work, but Toots did it every bit as well as the blokes, loading and unloading by hand.
Her work helped keep remote Cape communities viable, and she earned a legendary status in remote Australia. Toots’ exploits also encouraged people to hit the road for themselves and explore the Peninsula.