Many travellers can relate to the cancellation of trips and tours; ours to Europe in early 2020, to Tasmania in mid-2020, and to Sydney to see La Traviata in early 2021, so my husband Geoff and I made the bold decision to see the outback of our home State of Queensland. Safe enough, you would think. Well, on our return my daughter texted me that one of the hostesses who flew to Longreach has tested positive for Covid. Of course, that is where our trip started. A trip that was not only memorable but that left me in absolute awe of this continent’s beauty and immensity. I marvelled at its evident evolutionary development, an experience and impression that imbedded itself in the wish for a return visit.
I had read about Opera in the Outback, the Winton Writers’, and the Winton Film Festival. But by the time I made enquiries all accommodation was fully booked. A visit to Queensland Rail solved all, albeit a few weeks after the events that had originally caught my attention. A packaged tour included a sleeper cabin on The Spirit of the Outback to Longreach and return, a coach to Winton and return, and an action packed four days of exploration. Images of travelling on the Orient Express emerged in my vision, until I heard that all destination cabins had already been booked out. It seems that everybody had chosen to travel intra- and interstate. So, we decided to fly up, spend a couple of days in Longreach and then join the coach for the Winton trip.
We were not to know that the lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne left the train nearly empty due to so many cancellations.
Longreach, named after the ‘long reach’ in the Thomson River, and built around the sheep and cattle industries that thrive on the vast Mitchell Grass plains, was full of surprises and offerings. After checking into our Motel, we reconnoitred the town and were puzzled by the local radio station’s fence on which numerous bras were attached. Its worthwhile purpose is to raise awareness for breast cancer, a novel way to catch your eye and purse.
A new fonzie abbott had just opened in the main street and did not disappoint our expectation of a great cup of coffee. We were amazed at the number of caravanning nomads in town and on our walks along the beautifully maintained Linear Botanical Gardens Walk. This enjoyable hike features a diverse range of mostly native plants and takes you all the way from town to the airport, the Qantas Founders Museum, the Longreach School of the Air, and to our first visit, the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame.
I was not sure what to expect and was bowled over by the displays showing the contribution that the people of the bush have made. They possessed grit and skills that defined not only the stockman but also the feisty pioneer women, who carved a living under the most basic conditions. These women were farmers, cooks, storekeepers, teachers, seamstresses and midwives.
One such woman was Annie Harlow, affectionately known as ‘Granny’, who had experienced the hardship of early settler life. As a young woman she gave birth to twins on her own in a wagon by the side of the road. This experience inspired her to work as a midwife around Blackall.
Years ago in Brisbane, I had often admired at the paintings by Hugh Sawrey. I was surprised to learn that he was the founder of the Stockman’s Hall of Fame.
Sawrey’s commentary guided us through the exhibits from the indigenous peoples to the cattle barons, the flying doctors, and the rodeo men, all outback people hardened by the sun. They taught the fledgling nation to get back up after being knocked down.
Huts, wagons, actual tools and implements from yesteryear lead from one exhibit to another. The interactivity of the museum tempted me to venture behind the stockman’s bar.
Alfred Traegar invented the first pedal-powered radio. This enabled people living on remote stations to send messages to the doctor by morse code.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service provides vital assistance to isolated stations. An interactive screen displays how many of the 77 RFDS aircraft are in the air, when I looked, I saw three on the map of Australia.
After visiting the hawkers and their wares exhibits, and the art gallery, we crossed the Landsborough Highway and visited the Qantas Founders Museum.
The world’s second oldest airline – Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd – originally founded by Lieutenants W Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness, was registered on 16 November 1920 in Brisbane with Fergus McMaster as its first Chairman. In February 1921 the company and operational headquarters were moved from Winton to Longreach.
In the Museum we were impressed by the exhibitions of authentic aircraft, the Avro 504 Replica, the 1920s hangar, films and exhibits from the airline’s inception to modern times. Stories of the people behind Qantas’ development and the airlines highs and lows from its beginning up to 1934 form part of the themed displays.
I was taken by the Qantas 747 Upper Deck Lounge. This aircraft from the early 1970s opened international travel to everyone. First Class passengers were greeted by a maritime theme in the luxurious cocktail bar. What a way to fly.
Before leaving Longreach, we went on a Starlight’s Cruise Experience. We were picked up at our Motel for a sunset Thomson River adventure. During the journey fascinating commentary and folklore kept us entertained. On board of the paddle-wheeler we were treated to nibbles and a beautiful sunset.
We then sat around a campfire and were served a traditional stockman’s dinner, accompanied by songs and stories of the outback, poetry, jokes, long and short tales, like, why is the Thomson River the cleanest in Australia?
Because it has no ‘P’ in it.
After dinner we saw the Starlight’s Spectacular Sound & Light Picture Show, on a stage set on the riverbank. More stories and legends of the region were brought to life against a darkening sky with an increasing number of sparkling stars.
I never thought that I would enjoy Billy tea and damper, but, cooked on an open fire, it was yummy and a perfect finish to a perfect Cruise experience.
It being a weekend we were unable to pack in a tour of the Longreach School of the Air. I would have loved to observe the school in action and to learn how education is delivered using technology in the bush. To quote Arnold – I’ll be back.
We left Longreach the following day for the next leg of our outback exploration.
Reader, writer and snippeter.
Loves listening to classical music and jazz, visiting art galleries with expressionistic paintings, going the live theatre, seeing movies and absolutely adores, apart from her two gorgeous granddaughters, travelling to Europe.
Readily surrenders domestic chores to meet with friends for any of the three c’s – chat, coffee and champers.