Longreach

More About Longreach

LONGREACH -- the central Queensland capital -- lies cradled in a long reach of the meandering Thomson River in the vast prairie land that is central western Queensland. Every thing about the place is big. Big skies, big trucks, big properties, big steaks, big welcomes and big distances. 'Just down the road' can mean a journey of two or three hundred kms. "Don't worry mate, just keep going . . . you'll get there eventually".

Outback people in their quiet and dignified way welcome visitors to their territory with genuine warmth. They seem pleased and sometimes curious, as to why people would actually want to travel so far to experience a brief taste of their isolated and sometimes cruelly harsh way of life. But they are very pleased to offer an insight into their lives anyway.

Just as the scale of the central west is awesome, so the pace of life is gentle. Make haste slowly. It will still be there tomorrow. Time is gauged by the seasons, the cattle sales, or when the next truckload of supplies will arrive at an outlying station. Or when to finally pack your young up and send them off to boarding school in 'the big smoke'. Or when the pub opens.

Take a close look into the face of a Western Queenslander and you will see distance in their eyes. An open-faced friendliness and sincerity that is rapidly becoming lost forever in the mayhem of modern day city living. But you also notice that they will keep an eye over your shoulder, maybe scanning the distance for a telltale wisp of cloud that could produce rain to replenish long famished waterholes or a dust storm that could wreak havoc to barns, sheds and precious live stock.

They will speak in a slow, polite and considered way. Wander down any outback town's main street and more often than not people will offer a greeting. "Gudday, how're you going, mate?" with the ineeevitable response "Not too bad, yourself?"

Outback life moves at a measured economical pace. You can't rush about in 45 C heat. This is difficult to contemplate for urban dwellers, who live by the urgency of the clock and timetable, the immediacy of the computer and the demands of a jumpy boss watching his back and his profit margins.

There are several modern day methods of reaching Longreach, Queensland's historical heartland. The journey that once took three months by horse team and wagon or days by Cobb and Co. can now take less than two hours comfortably ensconced in a flying armchair. That is a heck of a sight quicker than it took the original settlers -- modern day travellers have no need to worry about feeding and watering the horses.

Go by car from Brisbane and the journey will take 14 hours. A coach will do the same job -- and someone else does the driving -- but in the eighteen hours it takes to get there you could fly half way around the world. Either way you get to see a lot of country, wildlife both dead and alive, wheat silos and telegraph poles.

The Spirit of the Outback, Queensland Rail's luxury train takes even longer. The journey lasts a full twenty-four hours being tugged north by smooth electric loco to Rockhampton and then veering left, swapping quiet electric engines for a couple of rumbling diesel's, and then onto the original heat twisted rails to Longreach arriving at sunset. It's fun sitting back in air- conditioned comfort sipping a cool drink and watching sweating backpacking push-bikers zip past the panoramic windows only to be caught again on inclines. The Spirit is not known for its haste but certainly for its comfort.

The question often arises from the uninitiated. But what the heck do you do 'out there?'

The simple answer is plenty. Just don't rush it. This is heritage country. Where the Australian character was and still is forged. Corny as it may sound to some, this is still the land of the 'fair go' and of fiercely guarded independence. Of mateship and camaraderie born out of necessity. If you don't look after each other, no one else will. It's a place where egalitarianism is rife. Front up to any bar and soon you could be yarning with a sweat soaked, dust encrusted millionaire grazier who runs a property the size of Ireland. Or a wiry, blue singleted, equally sweat soaked shearer escaping the furnace-like heat of the shed. Or Sister Anne Marie the flying nun, a knight of the realm, a politician. Yes, they even have them out there.

At the Commercial Hotel while sipping one of publican Roly Goodings' freezing cold beers or munching through a massive steak, you might bump into the ebullient Smithy and his wife Sue. Big Smithy and Little Sue run Outback Aussie Tours. A big broad-shouldered bloke, Smithy knows just about everything there is to know and see in the bush. And tells terrible jokes.

Rangy Bill Wilkinson might amble in. Bill will take you out to his once abandoned station. With a typical bushman's economy with words, the softly spoken drover will tell you that "when I moved in the goats moved out". He was a boundary rider for years on a huge station nearby. He now runs horse back trips into Captain Starlight country or you might find him piloting a tour coach or cracking whips down at the caravan park.

Captain Starlight aka Harry Redford, was a legendary cattle duffer who finally got knabbed by the wallopers but escaped the gallows. The jury (allegedly nobbled by the crafty thief), was impressed with Harry's novel -- if not downright illegal -- method of opening up new live stock routes, albeit with the aid of other peoples cattle, declared him "Not guilty Your Honour�". He walked free and into legend.

Then there's Tom Lockie, a 'been there done that' countryman whose knowledge of bush lore, verse and country yarns is out of all proportion to his diminutive stature. Lockie runs Artesian Country Tours. He's a one man operation who works out of historic Barcaldine an hour 'down the track' from Longreach.

He will take you to see Aboriginal Rock art and the eerie massacre caves where once a tribe of Aborigines was summarily slaughtered for allegedly spearing a white man. These grizzly reminders of a less than savoury past are hidden in a huge crater to the north of 'Barcy'. He will take his privileged travellers into parts of Queensland that very few white people have ever seen. Unlike Smithy, he tells hilarious jokes and is a talented exponent of the didgeridoo that is longer than he is.

There is a saying amongst the locals of Longreach. They say that once you've crossed the Thomson River you'll always return. Return to a place on this earth where you can sit around a campfire, peering up to the infinity of the heavens and listen to the deafening sound of silence. You don't get to do that very often these days. Go enjoy it while you can.