Sunday, 16 August 2015

About Charleville

Leaving Innamincka and re-tracing our route back into south-west Queensland, we turned off at Noccundra and drove north then east through Quilpie - a lovely, tidy little town with friendly locals and we enjoyed a stop for morning coffee and a chat with the cafe owner's mother who was changing a quilt display in the window.

She does stunning work and has such a flair for colour. She directed us down to the town's Information Centre where there was a small gallery of quilts made by local ladies. Those Quilpie quilters know their stuff! (Sorry, got carried away with alliteration!). Peter happily spotted a nearby exhibition of WW1 Military History and so avoided being dragged into the quilt display.

Our usual mode of travel is to leisurely get moving about 9am and drive maybe 300 kilometres with a break at a rest stop to stretch our legs and have a drink along the way (and hopefully find 'facilities' to use - and these vary considerably in these remote outback areas). This way we get to a camp spot in the early afternoon and avoid driving in the hottest part of the day. The parks we often stay at provide power and water, often sullage, and of course bathroom, shower and laundry facilities.

Typical 'toilet' in  outback reststops.
Other times - especially in very remote areas, we 'free park' with riverside areas or just areas set aside for travellers with only a basic toilet (usually eco) which is sometimes quite a distance away. However, as we are pretty well self sufficient with some solar panels to provide lighting and a little power at night, LP gas for our stove and a small refrigerator, so apart from shower/toilet for which we improvise, we manage very well. The added bonus is that in these remote areas, we often camp alone with maybe only one or two other vans some distance away - and we can have a campfire to sit around under the stars at night. So good for the soul!

We stopped for 5 days at Charleville - a town we visited several years ago and like a lot. It was a good chance to catch up on a little 'housework' with clothes washing, dusting out the van and re-stocking with food, not to mention a good clean up of ourselves too. These dry outback towns are still in drought situation, however water is drawn up from the Great Artesian Basin below and is used extensively. The downside is that there is a strong sulphur smell to it which dissipates when cooled. It's quite a novelty, though, to see that toilets are flushed with hot water.
The lovely 1929 Corones Hotel - built by a Greek migrant.

Charleville is lovely and makes sure its visitors are encouraged to stay longer with a variety of
attractions - the Cosmos Centre is a brilliant open air observatory perfectly sited in this part of the outback to take advantage of the clear night skies, also a Bilby Sanctuary, a newly built Flying Doctor Centre, campfire meals in the park, a few nice shops to browse, some beautiful old early 20th century buildings not forgetting the two remaining old Vortex rainmaking guns (which were, sadly, not a success).

One attraction which we loved was the American WW2 Convoy - a tagalong of cars with various stops through the large area on the outskirts of town which had been taken over by the Americans as a base during the war.

The small concrete building housed the Norden Bomb Sight during WW2
Over three and a half thousand soldiers/airmen manned this base - 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.

A restored Bomb Sight
Some buildings remain including one (of five) huge hangars which is now still in use by the Royal Flying Doctor service. The remains of mess-houses, bitumen baths, ablution blocks and dance halls are mostly just the concrete bases, but the small hospital building remains and is still used as a residence today. The most tightly held secret was the Norden Bomb Sight which was used by bombing crew to accurately pinpoint their target. When not in use they were stored in a small specially built concrete building, guarded day and night. This building remained empty and forgotten for decades until the story of  the American base was researched and the concept of the Convoy was planned. Trying to find an old Norden Bomb Sight somewhere in the world to display proved quite a challenge. Once one was found, all sorts of bureaucracy had to be overcome before it was even allowed into the country. One lesson they learnt was never to put the word 'Bomb' on any official import papers!

Once we were cleaned up, refreshed, re-stocked, we once more took to the open road heading north again with overnight stops at Blackall and Longreach. Next stop - Winton for a bit of dinosaur work.

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