25/05/2015 We were now in the country of red, brown and grey clays. Red sands and earths predominate though, typical of arid Australia. From Roma, Mitchell and Morven, we drove through brigalow country comprising eucalypt woodlands, native grasslands and shrublands where brigalow plants predominate. Beyond Morven, the vegetation changed to mulga lands. Flat-to-undulating plains and low ranges were dominated by the drought-tolerant mulga, with patches of grasslands and eucalypt-acacia woodlands. Much of the region is used for grazing cattle and sheep.
We camped at The Red Lizard Campground, located a few kilometres outside of Charleville on the Cunnamulla Road. Red Lizard Campground is owned by a young couple who own the property on which it was located, and had excellent facilities mostly built by the owners. The campground and neighbouring properties were very dry – no grass – with mulga and Red Box eucalypt as the dominant vegetation.
Charleville was established in 1867 on the banks of the Warrego River along a natural stock route from New South Wales to Western Queensland. The town developed as the major service centre for the surrounding pastoral industry: bullock teams passed through the town, Cobb & Co established stables and in 1888 it became the terminus for the Western Main Railway Line. It is now the largest town in South West Queensland, with a population in the vicinity of 3,500.
While looking around Charleville, I appreciated the astuteness of the City Elders in establishing front angle parking in the town centre, unlike many other towns we’ve come through where I’ve had to reverse angle park within the designated lines without damaging my own or any other car around me. What possessed town councils to implement reverse angle parking? Councillors must all be panel beaters…
Charleville has a lot to offer the tourist and we stayed for three days so we could have time to really take it in. We visited the Royal Flying Doctor Service Visitor Centre and enjoyed a self-guided tour that took us through the medical, aviation and communication advances that have occurred since the RFDS first commenced in 1928. This was followed with an award winning meat pie for me and slice for Di at Heinemanns Bakery (seems every town has an award winning bakery) as we explored the town centre.
Two Steiger Vortex rain-making guns, examples of a famous and fruitless rainmaking experiment carried out in Charleville in 1902, were located in a nearby park. Should be dusted off to break the current drought…
At the local Queensland Parks & Wildlife Office, we had the opportunity to view Yellow-Footed Rock Wallabies where the national parks folk are breeding them to keep the population up. There are still some colonies living in the wild but they are considered endangered. Later that evening, we attended a lecture back at the QPW Office on the efforts to breed and repopulate bilbies in a 25 square kilometre predator proof enclosure at nearby Currawinya National Park. This was followed by a viewing of four bilbies in their breeding enclosure just behind the office. Being after sunset, the nocturnal bilbies were out of their burrow feeding and moving about, and we were able to watch them under red lighting. This was our first encounter with these furry little guys with pointy noses and huge ears and they were so cute. It’s a shame that introduced predators like foxes and cats have decimated their numbers throughout Australia, leaving only two small pockets remaining.
Immediately afterwards, we attended a Night Time Observatory Session at the nearby Cosmos Centre and Observatory. This started with a short presentation on astronomical distances and where Earth was located in relation to our Sun, solar system, galaxy and universe, and followed with an opportunity to use their powerful telescopes in the outside observatory to view stars, planets and celestial systems with information being provided by a guide. It was amazing to be able to clearly see through the lens of a telescope the twin binary stars of Alpha Centauri (normally appear as one star to the eye), Jupiter with its weather bands and three of its moons, Saturn with its rings and many orbiting moons, and the impact craters on the Moon around the vicinity of the terminator line between light and dark. Despite the very cold evening temperature, we were wowed.
In 1942, about 3500 American airmen and ground crews who took over Charleville’s aerodrome and established an air base for long range Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers to strike against the Japanese in the Pacific. Remnants of some of the 101 buildings constructed at the airfield during that time can still be found in the mulga scrub surrounding the present day airstrip, and we went on a guided self-drive WW2 Convoy Tour to a number of sites where the servicemen had lived, slept, worked and bathed. Some sites still exist today but have other uses beyond those in the 1940′s. The highlight building was the concrete vault that stored the top secret Norden Bombsights. These highly classified instruments were removed from the aircraft on landing and taken to this building, where a round-the-clock guard was mounted. The building now contains a genuine example of a Norden Bombsight that was sourced through much research and effort from England, and we were privileged to be able to examine it.
Before leaving Charleville, we called in to the School of Distance Education, a Queensland State School providing educational services to home based learners from Prep to Year 10 in rural and remote Queensland and beyond. The CSDE was previously called the Charleville School of the Air, established in 1966. We saw how students complete their education through daily use of online resources, telephone and video conferencing ‘on-air’ lessons, email and materials sent via Australia Post. It was heartening to see how distance and remoteness was being overcome to provide access to good educational services.