Where the rivers run in­land

Lose your­self in re­gion that was in­spi­ra­tion for Banjo Pater­son

South Burnett Times - - RURAL WEEKLY - . ERLE LEVEY erle.levey@sc­news.com.au

“IT’S ex­pected to be a top of 37 de­grees to­day … and the bush flies were up early.’’

That was the good morn­ing greet­ing on the ra­dio sta­tion in Lon­greach, the heart of western Queens­land.

There is also a mes­sage on the break­fast show to be on the look-out for a lost cat. Last seen near Mag­pie Lane.

It feels like a dream. Af­ter a 24-hour train jour­ney from Brisbane to wake up in this won­der­ful bed.

It’s only the ra­dio that snaps me back to re­al­ity.

The 1300km train jour­ney took us through ever-chang­ing coun­try … from the city sky­line along the east coast of Queens­land to Rock­hamp­ton, then in­land through the min­ing, farm­ing and graz­ing ar­eas of Emer­ald, Bar­cal­dine and Jeri­cho.

As evening fell, the Spirit of the Out­back glided into Lon­greach rail­way sta­tion. And if de­par­tures don’t hold their own sense of be­ing as good­byes are spo­ken, then ar­rivals are just as emo­tional.

There to greet us is a four-piece band. I imag­ine it would have been the same 100 years ago when the sta­tion was opened and the first train pulled in at the plat­form.

There are the sights and sounds of ac­tiv­ity ev­ery­where. Yet soon we are trans­ferred by coach one to two kilo­me­tres through the dark­en­ing streets of the town.

Dur­ing din­ner at the Al­bert Park Mo­tor Inn, Lon­greach Mayor Ed Warren tells me they re­gard this town of about

3000 as the heart of the out­back.

A place known for starry nights and big skies, where there is a lot of his­tory and tra­di­tion.

It is the nat­u­ral ap­peal of the re­gion that makes it dif­fer­ent. The at­trac­tions are gen­uine, not con­trived.

The Stock­man’s Hall of Fame cel­e­brates the pi­o­neers of in­land Aus­tralia while the Qan­tas Founders Mu­seum recog­nises the be­gin­nings of what was to go on and be­come one of the world’s great­est air­lines.

Then there are the sun­sets, they are re­ally mag­nif­i­cent. And the peo­ple who are the body and soul of the land­scape.

So much has been writ­ten about the out­back. Few could fail to be in­spired by Banjo Pater­son in his epic poem Clancy of the Over­flow.

And here we were, smack in the mid­dle of his sto­ries. The over­flow is that area where the Thom­son River meets the Bar­coo River and be­comes Coop­ers Creek.

It’s prob­a­bly the only place in the world where two rivers run into a creek. That in turn emp­ties in Lake Eyre, some 900km away in the cen­tre of Aus­tralia.

Again, that is pretty unique to have a river sys­tem that runs in­land and is not con­nected to the sea in any way.

By tak­ing a sun­set cruise on the Thom­son River, I learn more about the in­land rivers.

The coolabah trees that line the river banks can live 500–600 years. Black kites and whistling kites nest in the branches.

But be on the look-out for rain­bow bee catch­ers and pi­geons as well as short-necked tur­tles and the fresh-wa­ter del­i­cacy of the area… red-claw cray­fish

Lon­greach is 165m above sea level and it takes nine months for the river wa­ter to reach Lake Eyre.

Nat­u­rally, there is a lot of evap­o­ra­tion as the wa­ters make their way through some of the dri­est ar­eas in Aus­tralia.

The Cooper Creek in flood can be 70km wide, where we get the name “the over­flow”.

When Lake Eyre does fill with wa­ter, two thirds of it comes from this river sys­tem … an­other third from the Dia­mantina and Ge­orgina sys­tem that flows down from the Mt Isa area, fur­ther north in Queens­land to­wards the Gulf of Car­pen­taria.

Lake Eyre has filled six times since white man came to Aus­tralia more than 200 years ago – three times in re­cent years.

“I’ve been here 50 years and just love this place,’’ Ed Warren tells me. “We chip in to­gether.

“It’s one of the best com­mu­ni­ties. That’s what comes from liv­ing in the one area. We de­pend on each other.

“Then again, you don’t know what the day will bring.

“There is so much to like about the re­gion. The lit­tle coun­try towns, such as Yaraka with a pop­u­la­tion of 18

peo­ple.

“I would en­cour­age every­one to go there,’’ Ed says.

“We even had the cur­rent Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull there last year.’’

Il­fra­combe, Bar­cal­dine and Is­is­ford are other places to visit.

Isis Downs shear­ing shed used to have 57 stands of shear­ers. It used 240-volt elec­tric­ity to run the shear­ing ma­chines be­fore Vic­to­ria’s cap­i­tal city, Mel­bourne, switched on to it as a power source.

“We hope visi­tors like Lon­greach as much as we do,’’ Ed con­tin­ues. “Tourism is im­por­tant to us.’’

Af­ter din­ner we walk an­other few hun­dred me­tres into the night. There is a still­ness and a quiet­ness all around. The cock­a­toos and galahs have tucked their heads un­der their wings for the night so there are few sounds.

The oc­ca­sional truck or car on the high­way, the head­lights spear­ing into the dis­tance.

Tonight, we will be sleep­ing in the slab huts and the sta­bles.

Well, I had heard about coun­try hos­pi­tal­ity but isn’t that stretch­ing things a bit far, bunk­ing down at a sheep sta­tion?

As it turns out, thoughts of bed­ding down in the straw of a barn couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth.

Kin­non & Co’s Out­back Ac­com­mo­da­tion con­sists of four-star and four-and-a-half­s­tar pioneer slab huts and sta­bles built with the area’s her­itage in mind but con­sid­er­ing the mod­ern needs of trav­ellers.

There is also three-and-a-half star Out­back Lodges and all are self-cater­ing.

The sta­bles fea­ture pol­ished con­crete floors, sta­ble door looks, old tim­ber gate bed­heads, lamps styled like old hur­ri­cane lamps, horse­shoes for coat hooks, cop­per wash basins cop­per fit­tings in the shower.

The slab huts have pol­ished tim­ber floors and wrought iron beds. All are air-con­di­tioned and have din­ing ar­eas as part of the kitchen.

They sleep three by way of a queen bed and sin­gle bed – plus an ex­tra per­son in the “loft’’ bed.

Then it’s time to wan­der across the yard, past old farm ma­chin­ery to a tim­ber deck.

Af­ter such an in­ter­est­ing train jour­ney and your head spin­ning from so many new ex­pe­ri­ences, who could re­sist a long soak in a claw-foot bath tub un­der the stars.

The wa­ter is warm, com­ing

from one tap as it is drawn from the Great Arte­sian Basin.

Then there are the re­cu­per­a­tive pow­ers of the min­er­als con­tained in this mas­sive un­der­ground wa­ter source that is mil­lions of years old.

Lie back, look up. As Banjo Pater­son wrote in Clancy of the Over­flow: “And at night the won­drous glory of the ever­last­ing stars.’’

The writer was a guest of Queens­land Rail and Out­back Queens­land Tourism

PHOTO: ERLE LEVEY

Birdlife along the Thom­son River.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

A sun­set cruise on the Thom­son River.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

A weir on the Thom­son River.

PHOTO: ERLE LEVEY

Take a bath un­der the stars at Kin­non& Co’s 4-star and 4.5-star Out­back Ac­com­mo­da­tion at Lon­greach.

PHOTO: ERLE LEVEY

The Sta­bles at Lon­greach, part of Kin­non & Co’s 4-star and 4.5-star Out­back Ac­com­mo­da­tion.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

NO PLACE LIKE IT: Sun­set on the Thom­son River.

PHOTO: ERLE LEVEY

Short-necked tur­tles come ashore on the banks of the Thom­son River.

PHOTO: ERLE LEVEY

The Sta­bles at Lon­greach, part of Kin­non & Co’s 4-star and 4.5-star Out­back Ac­com­mo­da­tion.

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