Thursday, 3 August 2017

Winton and Hughenden - dinosaurs and fossils

Somehow on all our outback trips we seem to visit Winton. It's a small outback town in mid-west Queensland and every time we visit it seems to us to be the quintessential Aussie outback town. It is also home to the absolutely amazing "Age of Australian Dinosaurs" museum.
Peter loves spending a couple of days in their Lab scraping away the rock and earth which encases the bones of these pre-historic animals, and the whole set-up now is much more than a museum and if anyone is interested I urge you to have a look at their webpage -

Winton itself claims to be the home of the Australian song "Waltzing Matilda" as the words were written by Australian poet, Banjo Paterson, when visiting Winton in 1895. There was a quite wonderful museum dedicated to this song in Winton which sadly burnt down several years ago. It is now being re-built to a new, big and very swish design and hopefully will replace the old as many artifacts were able to be rescued from the fire. The locals have mixed feelings about the new design and some feel it will be a bit 'citified' for this laid-back, outback country town. Time will tell.

Locals are friendly and always up for a chat.
One is the elderly owner of Searles - a store that sells a wide variety of goods. Bernie Searle has worked in the store founded by his father in 1946 for 65 years. One eye-catching feature is a display of old Australian hats - mostly the traditional Akrubra - that certainly all had been much loved and worn for many years. Bernie noticed my interest and was happy to yarn about his big trip to Sydney and his invitation to attend the book launch of a beautiful 'coffee-table' book devoted to the Akrubra hat. Bernie and his store even featured in the book being long-time retailers of these hats. He didn't think much of Sydney, he said, too noisy and too many people and he was glad to get back to Winton after his city outing.

The town, as well as dinosaurs, also has digs for boulder opal and of course there are stores where you can buy opal either in the 'rough' or polished and mounted in beautiful designs. In one shop I heard a Canadian accent and got to chatting with another overseas visitor - they were from Saskatchewan and so we had a lovely talk about our trip there and Rouleau, the town we visited, where "Corner Gas" (Canadian television comedy) was filmed.

Winton has a Musical Fence! (You read that correctly!). It was designed by percussionist and composer Graeme Leak in 2003 and is a wire fence that can be played as a musical instrument and it is the first permanent musical fence installation in the world. Nearby is a 'drum kit' made of all sorts of metal rubbish - but it is surprisingly good to bang about on it.

We enjoyed our stay in Winton but then we always do! Moving on our next stop was Hughenden, for a few days - again this outback town is in 'dinosaur and fossil' country and it has an extremely good and well presented museum relating the history of the district both ancient and modern.

The friendly staff there were all dog lovers and urged us to bring Charley in too and they gave him a lovely welcome. We're quite sure all the admiration he attracts will quite go to his head.

We went fossil hunting just outside the town and after a short time to our surprise, Peter found one - a Belemnite and only about 65 million years old.  Absolutely thrilled with our find and so, on our way back we called in to see the Porcupine Gorge - quite a spectacular 'gash' in the surface of the earth and a very fine sight.

Next we continued travelling east with the next stop - Charters Towers.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Blackall and Longreach

Had a couple of nights in Blackall on our way to Longreach. Must say we are always impressed at how these small outback towns promote themselves and make the most of any natural and/or historic attractions. At Blackall there is a restored Wool Scour that is quite remarkable. It is the only one left now that Australia no longer 'rides on the sheep's back'. We're still a major sheep country, but all shorn fleece is now shipped to China for the necessary washing and scouring. The Blackall Wool Scour used hot water from the Artesian Basin along with a mighty steam engine to power the whole works. It was fully restored some years ago and is carefully maintained and quite a wonder to see just how efficient was that old technology. In its day tens of thousands sheep were brought here to be shorn with their fleece graded and processed at the same place. It was baled and loaded into a branch railway line to join up with the main line down to Brisbane for shipping.

We had a lovely day out looking over this Wool Scour and with the open grounds with a small mob of sheep - and one goat - Charley also was most interested.

Next town was Longreach, where we also stayed for a few days. 
An original Qantas hangar.
The town has two major attractions - firstly the wonderful Qantas Founders' Museum. The Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service (Qantas) was founded in 1920 in Winton and moved its headquarters the following year to Longreach. It has an award winning, world-class museum and cultural display, with interative displays and videos, etc., to tell the history of our national airline. It also has on display a de Havilland DH-61 Giant Moth, de Havilland DH-50, and Avro 504K Dyak; Quantas' first aircraft as well as some more modern craft like a Catalina and a massive Boeing 747. Well worth visiting.

Secondly, the town has the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame - a massive complex detailing much of the work of Australia's early outback settler families and the essential work of the stockmen/drovers on those vast cattle stations (ranches to non-Australians). 
Beautiful old Longreach Railway Station
The vast view from the Lookout
One day we drove about half and hour out of town where, in the middle of nowhere (it seems) is a mesa (jump-up) called Captain Starlight's Lookout. It's named after a bushranger character in Rolf Boldrewood's novel "Robbery Under Arms". 

There's no pathway but a very rough, rocky way to the top. It took about 15 minutes to scramble up - but in that time Charley was up and down about 4 times. The view from the top was well worth it - in any direction.

Three days is not long enough in Longreach!

Staying an extra few days gave us time to wash off some outback dust from our car and van and also do the essential clothes wash, too.

We had a final dinner at the local pub Bistro, and next morning, packed up and were on our way again.  

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Quilpie to Charleville

We had an overnight stop at Quilpie on our way to Charleville. Quilpie is a nice, neat little town and the caravan park was spacious and had very good facilities – this includes an artesian bore which provided a very welcome hot outdoor spa for travellers – especially me! Nicely refreshed later that evening we walked out – with Charley – to the local pub for our evening meal which had an outdoor area for eating. It didn’t mind a well behaved dog waiting patiently for any little treats which might accidently fall from the table.

Next morning it was only a few hours’ drive to Charleville – a town we have visited before and like very much. It has quite a range of interesting sights – these range from a wonderful observatory (the night sky in this outback area is quite brilliant), a Bilby Experience (a small, cute but endangered Australian mammal), a drive through of a once secret WW2 American Airforce Base and a wonderful, huge old hotel built in the 1930s by a Greek immigrant Harry Corones. Before all that it was an important stop in droving days when the cattle were walked hundreds of miles to the railhead here to be loaded on trains for the Brisbane market.

All during the past few weeks while travelling through the Channel Country and further north into Queensland, I have been reading ‘Kidman – the Forgotten King’ (J Bowen, 1987) a biography of Sir Sidney Kidman who, in the late 1890s and the first half of the 1900s, built up an extensive empire by cattle dealing, droving and buying properties throughout this area. He ended up either owning or leasing more land than anyone else in the British Commonwealth and his cattle sales were legendary. It’s an incredible story and it is so interesting to think that he knew this land that we are travelling through very well and, in fact, owned so much of it.

The park we stay at is one of the friendliest camp and several times a week the proprietors offer a campfire dinner – You pay $19 each, byo chairs, plates, cutlery and drinks, and share in a delicious slow cooked dinner of beef stew and vegetables followed by Apple Sponge and billy tea. A delicious meal and nice to sit and talk to other campers by a lovely warm campfire.

Curious kangaroos near the old airbase.
We renewed our memory of past visits to Charleville by touring around the town and calling in at various places – the observatory, the Royal Flying Doctor base, Bilby Centre and the quite lovely old Railway Station. During the war over three and a half thousand soldiers/airmen manned a secret American Air Base here - and it was huge - and very top secret. It was based here because it was too far for enemy fighters to reach, but could safely maintain planes to despatch to northern bases. Over two hundred and fifty bombers left Charleville (refuelling at Charters Towers) enroute to the Battle of the Coral Sea. Only about 210 made it back.

Original decor of the very big public bar.

Lounge area (with open fire) of the old hotel.
After some housekeeping – the eternal washing and grocery shopping, then a lunch at the re-opened Corones Hotel, we were on our way again this time to Blackall on our way to another favourite place – Longreach.