Life & Style Weekend - - ESCAPE - WORDS: EL­YSE WURM The writer was a guest of Out­back Aussie Tours.

The wooden chair creaked a lit­tle as I leaned back as far as I could to take in the shim­mer­ing night sky. Bright stars pep­pered the black abyss above and, when we looked long enough, a shoot­ing star could be seen rock­et­ing across the dark­ness. We had just watched the sun set on our first day in Lon­greach and, as it crept below the hori­zon, the sky turned a shade of blue with a soft streak of pink that made it look like a can­vas had been painted be­fore our eyes. We took in the sight as we sat down at the wooden pic­nic ta­ble on Two Tree Hill, a stun­ning spot in the mid­dle of Cam­den Park Sta­tion. Fairy lights were wound through the trees and we noshed on a hearty home­cooked meal of zesty beet­root salad, bar­be­cued steak and greens. When we had fin­ished din­ing we took in the in­cred­i­ble starry sky that can only be seen when you’re far enough away from the city. Cam­den Park Sta­tion is run by Out­back Dan, oth­er­wise known as Dan Walker, and the Walker fam­ily. The prop­erty has hosted im­pres­sive guests, in­clud­ing Queen El­iz­a­beth and Prince Philip, who paid a visit in 1970. But ev­ery­one who steps foot on their soil is treated like roy­alty. “The last five years I’ve com­mit­ted fully to tourism. I dipped my toes in in the past, my grand­fa­ther was al­ways tak­ing buses out to the prop­erty and host­ing vis­i­tors for as long as I can re­mem­ber,” Dan said. “We al­ways thought there’s a house that leads to the end of the road and peo­ple would drive past and won­der what’s in there. “We wouldn’t do it jus­tice if we didn’t open the house up … and re­ally con­nect on a hu­man ba­sis.” That house in­cludes a full-sized ball­room that’s now been con­verted into a lounge­room with pho­to­graphs of the royal visit. Once we’d been given the grand tour and a sky-high piece of pavlova, we jumped back on the mini-bus and drove un­der the shim­mer­ing night sky to the Well­shot Ho­tel at Il­fra­combe, about 20 min­utes east of Lon­greach. The mini-bus was driven by Out­back Aussie Tours front­man Smithy, oth­er­wise known as Alan Smith (ev­ery­one in the out­back has a nick­name). He picked us up from the air­port ear­lier that day and ex­plained that join­ing one of his tours was like be­ing shown around the sweep­ing plains by a mate. That’s what it felt like when Smithy walked us into the Well­shot Ho­tel that night. We were taught how to fashion a five dol­lar note, two dol­lar coin and draw­ing pin into a mis­sile that would stick to the roof of the pub if flung hard enough. All pro­ceeds in the roof kitty were do­nated to An­gel Flight. As we were laugh­ing and had our eyes pointed high, mouths agape, a bush­man named Lind­say sit­ting at the bar pulled out a tatty piece of A4 pa­per from his pocket. In a rhyth­mic voice that made it feel as though Banjo Pat­ter­son was sit­ting on that bar stool, he started recit­ing po­ems he had writ­ten about his own ex­pe­ri­ences. He wove words to­gether about sol­diers re­turn­ing from war feel­ing guilty they had lived and the feel­ing of be­ing the only one left in the room when ev­ery­one else is en­grossed in their phone screen. He wasn’t the best at dis­cussing things, he said, but po­ems were his way of shar­ing the thoughts swirling around his mind. With those beau­ti­ful words we headed back to the Salt­bush Re­treat for some sleep, amazed we had crammed so much into just half a day in Lon­greach. The next morn­ing Smithy picked us up

once again to take us to the His­toric Rail­way Cafe, which is owned and op­er­ated by Out­back Aussie Tours. The cof­fee ma­chine buzzes from in­side the 102-year-old building that still wel­comes vis­i­tors mak­ing the trip to the town by train. But with car­riages now fill­ing fast with tourists, a Qan­tas flight into Lon­greach that takes just an hour-and-a-half from Bris­bane has be­come an at­trac­tive op­tion for vis­i­tors. The cof­fee at the cafe was so good some had sec­onds, while the smashed av­o­cado on rye had a sprin­kling of dukkah that added de­li­cious pops of flavour. “It’s the tra­di­tional com­bin­ing with the mod­ern, that’s what we’re about,” Smithy said. A mod­ern tour com­pany they are, with no marked buses or branded shirts. You feel as though you be­long when walk­ing down the street. The cafe isn’t the only side ven­ture Smithy runs along­side his wife Sue. We were also treated to a cruise on the Lon­greach Ex­plorer along the Thom­son River fol­lowed by din­ner and a show at out­door venue Smithy’s that evening. Af­ter fill­ing our bel­lies with camp-oven cui­sine, in­clud­ing roast potatoes and damper, it was time to call it a night. Smithy and Sue wel­comed us into their home at Rose­bank Sta­tion the next morn­ing for the fi­nal sup­per on the trip. With fresh cof­fee served in mis­matched vin­tage tea sets and home­cooked quinoa salad with lamb for break­fast, it was the last taste of true coun­try hos­pi­tal­ity. While the drought may have turned the ground to dust in some ar­eas out west, it’s done noth­ing to dry up the spirit of our out­back char­ac­ters.

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