Aussie Icons #2 – Cooper’s Creek

Last Updated on March 3, 2017 by Red Nomad OZ

Cooper's Creek, Outback Queensland
Cooper’s Creek, Outback Queensland

Studded with campfires in the late evening dusk, the creek banks were alive with the sounds of trucks thundering across the bridge, beer cans popping and that combination of braggadocio, loud laughter and hi-jinks peculiar to any random group of three Aussie males on a boy’s own adventure.

Yes, Cooper’s Creek earned its Aussie-rite-of-passage status in the June 2009 week Pilchard and I camped on its banks!

Cooper's Creek Bridge near Windorah
Cooper’s Creek Bridge near Windorah

You couldn’t swing a fishing line and sinker without hitting a major league 4WD, loaded to the gunwales with tinnie*, camping gear and several loaded eskies**. Most contained a group of three – ALWAYS three! – males, albeit in random combinations. Father + two sons. Father + son + son’s best mate. Three best mates. Two brothers + one best mate. Two best mates + one son. Why? WHY??

One of life’s great mysteries … but I DO know you couldn’t take a pee ANYWHERE in the bush without hitting a beer can!! And their presence put a serious dampener on any plans I had to use the solar shower – at least without a shelter from the beer goggles!!!

Thompson River, Queensland
Thompson River, Queensland

The only place in Australia – actually, the world – where two rivers, the Thomson (above) and Barcoo (below) meet to form a creek, Cooper’s Creek is a unique Australian icon. With massive river redgums (find the human in the photo below!) lining the banks, scores of water birds, surrounding floodplain and remoteness, it epitomises the outback like nothing else – a truly Australian river  system.

Barcoo River, Queensland
Barcoo River, Queensland

Viewed from the air, Cooper’s Creek, and the surrounding ‘Channel Country’ is a network of often dry channels flowing from Queensland’s southwest corner into South Australia before reaching Lake Eyre, lowest point in Australia, and depending on weather conditions, its largest salt pan – or largest inland sea! And as shown during recent Australian floods, riverbanks are neither here nor there to a breaking drought.

Pilchard in the Cooper's Creek Creekbed
Pilchard in the Cooper’s Creek Creekbed

As Cooper’s Creek virgins, our first thrilling sighting on a detour between Thargomindah and Quilpie came complete with a 4WD/tinnie/esky/3 mates combo. But the Cooper’s Creek magic came a couple of weeks later, camped on its banks near Windorah. Where else could a modest $10.50 investment in a box of African Nightcrawlers yield 5 different types of fish?! And we weren’t even really serious fisherfolk …

While map naming conventions have changed the name to ‘Cooper Creek’ – that’s just plain wrong! When he discovered it in a dry year, misguided explorer Charles Sturt named it ‘Cooper’s’ after Charles Cooper (then SA Chief Justice) and ‘Creek’ because he didn’t think anything that small was actually a river!

Cooper's Creek - that's what the locals call it!
Cooper’s Creek – that’s what the locals call it!

Later, Australian novelist Alan Moorehead’s work about the Burke and Wills expedition made Cooper’s Creek (spelled just like that!) part of the OZ psyche. So why call the creek something other than a) what it was first called, and b) what it’s known as?? After some years with the ‘correct’ name – Cooper Creek – Windorah locals changed the signpost back, a decision with which I concur. Although – and this will come as a surprise, no doubt – the locals may well find what I think to be irrelevant …

SO have a bet each way and call it ‘the Cooper’!! But miss this iconic Aussie landmark, and miss what makes Australia unique!!

*Tinnie = Australian coloquialism for a metal boat (ie ‘tin can’ derivative)

** Esky = portable cold storage unit used as an outdoor fridge (most commonly to keep drinks cold)

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  1. I get it now. Two rivers meet to make one HUGE…creek. Did I read it here or elsewhere that it was called a creek because no one could imagine Coopers Creek being so big.

  2. @Beet – Aha! You may be on to something there, my friend!!
    @Shawn Becker – welcome! Thanx for following and thanx for the compliment!!

  3. I could not come up with an answer to “Why always in Threes?,” until I read the above comment. Now, it makes perfect sense! This was a very informative post and the pictures (especially the first one) are amazing!

  4. @Pop Champagne – Stick around, babe and you’ll learn HEAPS more!! But I promise it’ll all be fun …
    @Jayne – welcome once again, my friend! It’s a pleasure to take you anywhere!!
    @Mary – With that attitude you’re bound to stay young!! But there’s always reincarnation …

  5. I can’t get any older. Since meeting you I have so many new places on my bucket list that I need at least another 20 years to see them all. You make it all sound like a great adventure. I hope you have a good day. Blessings…Mary

  6. thats cool- i learned a bit about australia! I’ve been there once but never to the creek, it looks so nice there though!

  7. @Manzanita – here’s another one for you – ‘ute’! Short for ‘utility’ (yes, we are lazy speakers downunder) this is the OZ version of ‘pickup’!
    @Betty – Yeah, it’d be funny if it wasn’t true!!
    @PAMO – Thanx! Look forward to your return!!
    @Facing50Blog – AAARRRGGHHHH! So I guess you won’t visit when you’ve got nice weather up your way?? Or does that never happen??!! I see I’ll have to insert more ‘how to be OZ’ lessons …
    @Michelle – It adds that extra dimension to visiting a place too!
    @Robin – Hey, everyone meet my new best friend!! Can’t wait to hear how your Aussie slang conversation goes!!
    @Windsmoke – Bugger, I missed it! But apparently if it all dries up too quickly a lot of the young birds die …
    @Akseli – Welcome, and thanx so much! Come back anytime!!

  8. Hi Red Nomad, I found your blog from a comment on PAMO blog. Love the pics, sure looks like typical Australian bush!

  9. I saw the Deluge on abc 1 as well and it was very interesting especially the Pelicans that didn’t nest again in the same area along the shoreline of Lake Ayre but on tiny island because of the number Pelicans that died along the Lake Eyre shoreline :-).

  10. So many interesting tidbits here. I chuckled over how there were always mates in triples of some form. Always three. Three. Three. And then I got stuck on the solar shower. Never seen one of those. I am afraid my brain lagged there for quite a while. And the idea of taking a leak and not being able to miss a beer can sent me into peals of laughter *which I really needed.* I loved the Aussie words that you notated at the bottom. I must figure out ways to insert them into conversation, just so that I can explain their meaning. Or not. That might be more fun. Just go on like EVERYONE KNOWS what a tinnie is. Seriously. LOL. Keep on writing. Love it.

  11. I love that interesting fact about Cooper’s vs. Cooper. I feel like there’s so many little interesting facts like that in Australian history which makes reading up on its history so fun!

  12. A great post and a bonus language lesson…I now know that a ‘tinnie’ is not as I previously suspected just a can of lager! And ‘eskie’ will be my new favourite word…you just don’t get this stuff from watching ‘Neighbours’ or ‘Home and Away’.
    As always love my visits here…just the antidote required for a grey concrete sky day.
    Thanks for your comment on my post by the way. You are absolutely right. Hubby would soon learn if he lived in OZ – home of the barbecue. Hey maybe I could send him to you for some BBQ lighting lessons that really would be appreciated 🙂

  13. Such a well written post made interesting by your humor and savvy. Cooper’s Creek will now be embedded in my psyche as the three mates place.

    Loved the photos and look forward to reading more!

  14. What nice places worth to visit.
    LOL “… anywhere in the bush without hitting a beer can!”.

    Off to check out Alan Moorehead’s link.

    Another interesting post!!

    Have a great week ahead!

    Betty xx

  15. I’m happy you put some footnotes…. I was clueless. I often marvel over our difference in words. You say mate we say buddy. ….Potato, potata.
    Three “mates” camping. Could it be 3 fit in the front seat of a pickup? Again clueless. Why? I learn much of Australia. Seems like everyone in my family has visited there except me. I’ll get my information from You.
    Love and Peace,

  16. @Andrew – AAARRRRGGGHH! This is what comes of editing without proofreading afterwards … let this be a lesson to you!! Text now corrected – and if I may say so, actually makes sense!! As far as the apostrophe goes, I draw your attention to the last photo … google Coopers Creek (with no apostrophe) and you’ll get the Victorian version!
    @Toni – It’s the blind leading the lame – I haven’t been to the Leichardt river, so can’t draw any comparisons!! Will add to list of places to go … now even longer than my arm!!

  17. I saw that show too, Andrew, it was really interesting.
    Never been to Coopers’ Creek but some of the photos reminded me strongly of the Leichhardt River where I worked briefly in the early 80s.

  18. I’ve been guilty of missing more that words at times and I wouldn’t normally mention it, but I am interested to know what is unique about the Thomson and Barcoo? I too prefer Coopers, but usual name convention leaves out the apostrophe. I watched the show about the Deluge on tele today from last night. Truly amazing. Wouldn’t it be good to see the first trickle arrive and then the water rise.

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