31/05/2015 I was reading the plaque at the Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine, when someone called my name. It was an old friend and workmate, John Burow, who I hadn’t seen in ten years or so. We knew he was travelling but not that he was in the area. Turned out he was heading for Lara Wetlands, which we’d just left that morning. It was good to catch up again over a coffee in Barcy.
The country between Barcaldine and Longreach was very drought-affected. The broad plains of Mitchell grass had dried off to blue-grey from the drought and looked to contain no nourishment at all. This was the driest country we had yet seen in the West. Both sides of the road were absolutely littered with the bones of roadkill every few metres, mostly roos but also the occasional sheep. Most carcasses were desiccated from exposure to the sun and scavengers, and there were a lot that were obviously more recent kills. Fortunately, though, not too many were lying on the actual road surface, requiring evasive driving. Anyway, the kites and crows feeding on the roadkill provided ample early warning of hazards coming up.
We saw a sizable group of emus just off to one side of the road, a mob of wild goats, the occasional Kori Bustard (commonly known as the bush or plains turkey), but only just a couple of kangaroos. Roos are a real problem from late afternoon to early morning when they come in to feed on the little bit of green pick beside the road, but not so much during the day. As it turned out though, later on in Longreach itself, I almost collected one as it shot across the road in front of me. You can never tell what and where things will happen…
Halfway between Barcaldine and Longreach, we stopped at the tiny town of Ilfracombe and had a cold drink at the Wellshot Hotel. The hundred year old pub had a welcoming feel about it, with a bar made from a wool-press, an assortment of local station wool pack stencils on the walls, a ceiling covered with a collection of money from around the world, and a ceiling border of ‘hats of a certain age and character’, some of which would no doubt have an interesting story to tell if they could only talk. Most hats were contributed by characters from the local district, but there was also a hat from Dame Quentin Bryce, ex-Governor of Queensland and ex-Governor General of Australia, and Lee Kernaghan, country music singer. The beer was good and the food looked good, but the publican was run off his feet with about eighty people from the caravan park next door plus a busload of tourists, all chasing drinks and food, so we hit the road again for Longreach.
Thankfully, we’d pre-booked a caravan park site in Longreach as the park was chockers with 245 Avans for their annual national gathering, plus a bunch of other vans. Avans as far as the eye could see. If you wondered where these things herd together once a year to breed, this was the place…What’s the gestation period for an Avan?
It was good to be on power again and to fire up the aircon as the days were starting to warm up the further north we travelled. Di had a long therapeutic massage the next day as she was feeling very sore, and we spent the rest of the day quietly relaxing.
After spending a couple of days at Lara Wetlands unsuccessfully trying to get close-up shots of brolgas, we had two of them wandering around the caravan park in Longreach and trying to get inside the van!
Longreach offers some wonderful attractions for the visitor, including the Cobb & Co coach tour, Paddlewheeler, and Qantas Founders Museum, but we thought they were all overpriced and we didn’t feel up to doing the tourist attractions. We did, though, spend quite some time going through the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame which had some great exhibits of the life of people in the bush.
We stayed four days in Longreach, mainly relaxing and regretting missing the first State of Origin match as we were out of signal that night. The guys still did good though, despite my absence.
“Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” ― Pat Conroy