Sunday, April 27

Going bush

When asked to name a quintessential Outback town, names like Broken Hill and Birdsville typically come to mind.  I visited the former more than a decade ago and have plans to see the latter someday soon.  However, from a pure tourism viewpoint, Broken Hill proved to be a one day wonder.  I suspect Birdsville will prove no better.

The same cannot be said for Longreach, the same proclaimed capital of the Outback.  This cozy regional centre sits on Queensland’s Landsborough Highway, midway between Mt Isa and Rockhampton.  Midway means 700 kms in either direction.  Longreach sits on the rim of the Thompson River’s floodplain.  Its location marked the western terminus of a rail line stretching inland from the Queensland coast.

Garry and I spent the Easter weekend exploring a surprising variety of activity that awaits visitors.  We arrived late on Sunday afternoon courtesy of the daily Qantaslink flight from Brisbane.  I’d made a last minute change to our itinerary and booked a cabin at the Kinnon & Co Outback Lodge.  This proved to be a savvy decision.   We enjoyed three nights in air-conditioned cabin on the edge of a dry grass paddock grazed by the occasional kangaroo.

Our first Outback adventure began that evening with a steak meal at the nearby Stockman’s Hall of Fame.  The dining area sits under an open-sided shed.  This is the Outback after all.  Temperatures rarely fall below 20C at night.  Patrons are kept cool by the whirling 3-metre blades of a giant ceiling fan.

The following morning we made our way to the Qantas Founder’s Museum.  This venue, based on the southern fringe of the local airport, was the first permanent base for Australia’s national airline.  The airline was founded in 1920, just up the road (all of 177 kms away) at Winton.  The original hanger is still there.  It’s now a heritage listed building.  The museum houses many of the airline’s most famous aircraft including its first jetliner, the Boeing 707, and it’s last Classic Series Boeing 747.

Garry and I booked the Wing Walk Tour.  This behind the scenes tour took us through the bowels of a Jumbo Jet, before culminating in a walk out onto one of the plane’s expansive wings.   We discovered the location of its infamous black box, made our way from first class into the avionics bay and on into the forward cargo hold.  We saw where the emergency oxygen is kept and discovered just how enormous its central fuel tank is.

We finished the day with a sunset cruise along the Thompson River.  We had hoped to travel on the historic Thomson Belle paddlewheel steamer.  Unfortunately, the boat was full and we found ourselves riding a rather plain flat-bottom skip.  However, it did give us an opportunity to photograph the old lady as she steamed into the sunset.  Our river cruise finished with a fireside plate of bushman’s stew; some truly tall tales from Scotty, a local bush poet, and the cinematic retelling of an infamous cattle-rustler’s grand heist.

Our second day was spent exploring the halls of the Stockman’s Hall of Fame.  We found spent more three hours wandering through its exhibits learning about the nation’s Outback pioneers.  The Stockman’s main building consists of three soaring corrugated iron arches.  It was officially opened in 1988 by Queen Elizabeth.

On Wednesday we took a trip back in time to the days of the Cobb & Co stagecoach.  Kinnon & Co have faithfully reconstructed stagecoaches that take tourists on a horse-drawn joyride through the local bush.  Garry and I were invited to sit on the top of the coach.  It seemed like a great idea at the time. 

However, by the time we’d galloped along bone-dry dirt tracks we found ourselves covered in a fine layer of dust.  It was rather sobering to contemplate how dusty we were after 30 minutes.  I admire those early travelers who rode the coach for days on end.  It's not business class Qantas style.

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