16 Oct 2023 ROAD TRIP
I flew to Longreach on October 7 prior to my road trip with Simon and Nicole. I was delighted to see a pair of kangaroos grazing on the neighbour’s lawn when I arrived at their house, something I hadn’t seen before. The itinerary included Blackall, Charleville, Tambo, Quilpie, Eromanga and Jundah. Most of the tour was in far southwest Queensland. The terrain from Tambo to Welford National Park near Jundah was all new to me, though there is a good deal more country in the State, further south and west. The grass was still long in the paddocks and we saw cattle and a few sheep enroute, but the ground is drying out and el nino has taken hold. The rivers still had quite a lot of water in them, but the water courses we traversed were overwhelmingly dry. Compared with my last visit in late March, there was plenty of road kill, a sure sign that food beyond the road verges, is more difficult to obtain for kangaroos and emus.
This was the first time in five or six visits to Simon & Nicole, that it hasn’t rained in Longreach. I relished the near 40° heat. On the first day we spent an interesting two hours being guided round the remarkably intact wool scour in Blackall, complete with steam engine and machinery. It operated from 1908 to 1978 and has been restored by a volunteer organisation. The process of cleaning wool is arduous and economically worthwhile only for the finer fibres. Lanoline was one of the items removed. The reference reminded me of the smell of lanoline when I stopped at an open door of a carding shed in Bingley, on the walk from the station to my friend’s house in the 1950s.
Charleville is the equivalent of Longreach for southwestern Queensland. We enjoyed an informative tour of a World War 2 airbase, strategically located beyond any frontline on Australian soil, but close enough to supply forward bases with bombers and fighter bombers. For the three years it was needed, it was US sovereign territory. In the evening, we went to the Cosmos Centre and because cloudy skies precluded the use of their telescope, we adjourned to the impressive planetarium for an excellent talk by the resident astronomer.
As we approached Quilpie, the land assumed the wide, flatter and less vegetated look of the Channel Country. The town has a spacious, attractive, new gallery and museum. Even the modest lookout we ascended a few kilometres out of town afforded splendid 360° views. Before we drove to Eromanga, we went on the Bulloo River walk, which was enchanting. The interpretive signs drew attention to what otherwise might have seemed non-descript vegetation. Two of the signs referred to wait-a-while and supple jack, confirming just how confusing common names can be, because the wait-a-while on the mountain is a far more prickly customer than the one by the bank of the river and the supple jack is nothing like the ingenious vine in our rainforest.
Eromanga is famed as the place where Australia’s largest dinosaur is exhibited, in the area where it was discovered. A front and hind leg, some 6 m high are the main attraction. The Natural History Museum was opened in 2021 and, like the gallery in Quilpie, is lavish and stylish. The Queensland government has a generous budget for building outback tourist attractions, setting a high architectural standard.
Our main objective in travelling to Welford National Park was to encounter some of the most easterly red sand dunes in the country, though on the way, we passed notable red dunes further south. Shortly after entering the park, turning left onto the River Drive, we were directed to a jetty on the Barcoo River which looked as full as the Bulloo River in Quilpie. The walking track terminated after a short distance. The drive was rather a misnomer, because it crossed open country. The tree line showing the position of the river, was some distance from the track. For a long while, it seemed that the Desert Drive would be a similar disappointment. We saw the dunes ahead of us, but the track took us away from them across arid country with increasingly yellow soil. It seemed that we were on an annoying detour. At last we reached the dunes and climbed them. From the top we could see a range of hills which rise close to the southern boundary of Long Reach Regional Shire.
After staying the night in Jundah, we returned to Longreach where Simon and I, as an absentee, voted in the predictably failed referendum. Nicole cast a postal vote. On the Sunday, Nicole had booked a tour to Ilfracombe, on the heritage rail car her company has just started operating. Unfortunately, she was unwell and didn’t travel. The tour included lunch at the Wellshot pub, a favourite of mine when I visit Longreach. The journey was just 26 km. As we left the station there were brolgas on one side of the track and emus with young, on the other. Normally vegetation and structures obstruct the view from train windows. The views from the rail car were unrivalled because there was nothing to interrupt them. Something which I have only seen on film, was a large mob of eastern red kangaroos bounding across a paddock for hundreds of metres, on the other side of the main road which follows the route of the railway.
Simon and Nicole continue to flourish. Both have good jobs which stimulate them and keep them busy (Simon has been promoted to a managerial position with a healthy pay rise and two people in his team).