Lon­greach a wel­come oa­sis

Mi­rage ap­pears out of the dust and scrub and of­fers so much to the weary trav­eller

The Chronicle - - LIFE DIVA - Erle Levey Erle.Levey@sc­news.com.au The writer was a guest of Queens­land Rail and Out­back Queens­land Tourism

LON­GREACH comes as a real sur­prise.

Ar­guably the eco­nomic cen­tre of Out­back Queens­land, it is al­most a mi­rage amid hun­dreds and hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of graz­ing and scrub coun­try.

Some 1300km from Bris­bane, the cap­i­tal city of Queens­land, it is per­haps 2000km fur­ther to Dar­win at the top end of the Aus­tralia.

Pulling into the town af­ter a long jour­ney, you are not pre­pared for the fa­cil­i­ties on hand.

There is a feel­ing of wealth when so many other coun­try towns are strug­gling to sur­vive.

Yet even Lon­greach is bat­tling, the re­sult of con­tin­ued drought over many years and a shrink­ing gov­ern­ment foot­print.

It is the re­silience and drive of the com­mu­nity that keeps the town alive.

It’s sheep and cat­tle coun­try out here and sit­ting in the main street mid-morn­ing I get to talk­ing with David Lind­say, who has been down from Is­is­ford for the Out­back Drover’s Re­union.

Out­back work­ers, drovers, stock­men and women come to­gether to hon­our the drovers of days gone by.

Sit­ting around the camp­fire, they tell yarns and re­mem­ber those who lived lonely in the sad­dle mov­ing stock through the Aus­tralian Out­back.

And I am in for an­other unique coun­try ex­pe­ri­ence – Lon­greach is the only town in Aus­tralia that of­fers a five-at-hand horse and car­riage jour­ney at a gal­lop.

Richard Kin­non started his Cobb and Co coach tours in Lon­greach eight years ago when sheep farm­ing be­come hard due to sus­tained drought.

“It’s all about the ex­pe­ri­ence,” he tells the group from in front of the old McNally Wel­come Ho­tel in the main street of town.

“We want peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence the real feel of the Out­back, the in­tegrity – of the his­tory.

“The Life and Times of Cobb and Co has been nom­i­nated for the archives of Aus­tralian his­tory for telling this story ... it’s a great story to tell.”

We are met at the sta­bles and yards be­hind the ho­tel by coach driver Jeremy Kin­non.

“This is an ex­pe­ri­ence,’’ he an­nounces, the sun­light of early morn­ing il­lu­mi­nat­ing the brim of his Akubra hat.

“It’s not a joy ride. We will be trav­el­ling along the orig­i­nal track that came into town. We’re deal­ing with real horses. We gen­er­ally can judge what they’re do­ing but not what the peo­ple are do­ing.”

It’s an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence what the early pi­o­neers went through in this form of trans­port that opened up the in­land.

The coach, pulled by five trained horses, takes a gen­tle tour through Lon­greach town, then heads out to the dirt track that is part of the orig­i­nal Lon­greach-Win­do­rah Cobb and Co mail route ... a gal­lop through the bush is an ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for all ages.

For 70 years from the 1850s to the 1920s, Cobb and Co coaches were a prin­ci­pal means of trans­port in the colonies of Queens­land, New South Wales and Vic­to­ria.

Set­tlers mov­ing in­land, new im­mi­grants hope­ful of suc­cess on the gold fields, shear­ers, agents, squat­ters, chil­dren and their par­ents – ev­ery­one used Cobb and Co stage coaches to move, as ef­fi­ciently as was pos­si­ble, around the colonies.

Even larger num­bers of peo­ple, many of who lived in re­mote coun­try towns, sta­tions or set­tle­ments, re­lied on Cobb and Co’s mail de­liv­ery ser­vices.

Coaches brought es­sen­tial sup­plies, news from home and a sense of con­nec­tion to oth­ers in what was per­ceived as a dis­tant and in­hos­pitable land.

Cobb & Co routes were seen as a life­line to iso­lated com­mu­ni­ties and a means of tam­ing the vast­ness of Aus­tralia.

Back in the tea rooms at the for­mer ho­tel, now Kin­non’s tea rooms and store, it is time for smoko of tea and cof­fee served with scones spread with jam and whipped cream.

There’s so much to like about Lon­greach. The sound of cock­a­toos in the trees in the late af­ter­noon, the rail­way sta­tion that was com­pleted in 1916.

Sit­ting, watch­ing the cat­tle trains roll in, and then roll out of town. Then there’s the coun­try air with a clean crisp­ness to it in au­tumn.

Yet most of all, it is that magic hour as day­light floats away. When you can gather around the camp­fire as the drovers used to do with mil­lions of stars above your head.

The 2017 Cobb & Co Stage Coach Ex­pe­ri­ence tour sea­son is from April 3 Oc­to­ber 31. The four-hour tour starts from The Sta­tion Store in Lon­greach. Mon­day to Fri­day from 8.30am. Book­ings es­sen­tial.

It’s all about the ex­pe­ri­ence. We want peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence the real feel of the Out­back, the in­tegrity – of the his­tory.

— Richard Kin­non

PHOTO: ERLE LEVEY

SET­TING OUT: Pas­sen­gers rode in­side the coach while the well-heeled rode up top in the open air.

PHOTO: ERLE LEVEY

A coach trav­els along the orig­i­nal Lon­greach-Win­do­rah Cobb and Co mail route to the south of Lon­greach.

PHOTO: ERLE LEVEY

Richard Kin­non out­lines the part Cobb & Co coaches played in the pi­o­neer­ing days of Out­back Aus­tralia.

PHOTO: CONTRIBUTED

The coaches in ac­tion.

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