21 Mar 2016 LONGREACH
Got back from staying with Simon and Nicole (my son and daughter-in-law) in Longreach for a few days. They have just bought their first house which is spacious and welcoming. The evaporative air conditioning system is brilliant, keeping the house cool and fresh while allowing windows to remain open to benefit from any breezes. This post is mainly about natural history and the land. One feature which delighted me was the abundant bird life in their small garden.
The birds are attracted to a feeder and a bath under the overhanging branches of a substantial tree. Crucially there is a small clump of bushes on the other side of the boundary fence providing shade and perches for all comers. Crested Pigeons and Yellow-throated Miners were the dominant species with a variety of smaller birds, including Diamond Doves and a Little Kingfisher.
Simon showed me a bottle tree sapling which Nicole had given him as a wedding anniversary present. While taken with the beauty of the thought behind the gift, I was thrown by the proportions of the leaves which made me doubt if it was a bottle tree at all, so unlike the narrow, tapering leaves of the Queensland Bottle Tree, Barchychiton rupestris were they, until Simon showed me some mature trees in the next street, complete with bulbous trunks which give bottle trees their common name. The sapling, appropriately, is a Broad-leaved Bottle Tree (Brachychiton australis).
I fell in love with Lilly Lagoon during my stay in 2012 and Simon drove me to see it the day after my arrival. There was much more water in it, but fewer birds roosting, swimming or flying. A pair of Rainbow Bee-eaters repeatedly skimmed the lagoon’s surface in search of insects.
The following day we drove to the remote township of Yaraka, 220 kilometres south of Longreach, via Isisford and Emmet. Isisford has an interpretive centre devoted to the earth’s earliest crocodilian fossil, discovered nearby, dating between 95 and 98 million years ago, which is almost 20 million years before the first alligator appeared and 30 millions years before the first true crocodiles. The town is in decline, recalling its more prosperous times by preserving some of its defunct shops on the wide, main street. Yaraka’s population of 12 dwarfs that of Emmett, 2, where we saw a beautiful sand goanna, about five feet long, sheltering from the mid day sun behind the disused railway station. East of the hamlet, outliers of the Grey Range, which extends for hundreds of kilometres from west of Blackall to the far western New South Wales border, broke the uninterrupted vista of dessicated plains.
We picked up the range again on the way to Yaraka, which nestles against its slopes. We also saw numbers of Emus plus the occasional sheep and cattle in paddocks with better grass cover than those around Longreach. The township is at the end of the railway line which was intended to link Sydney to Darwin in the early 1900s. The station and goods shed are being turned into a museum. The line was only closed in 2005, after many years of disuse. Following an excellent lunch at the pub (how amazing it is that we, very likely the day’s only strangers in town, were able to enjoy a refreshing drink and a hearty meal in such an isolated place), we perambulated the level top of Mt Slowcombe with 360° views of distant ranges and vast flatlands tinged with green after seasonal rain.
On my last full day we watched Zootopia in Longreach’s well-attended cinema and met friends of Simon & Nicole for a sun-downer at the Thompson River which we had to ourselves apart from a couple of boaties making waves in mid-stream.