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Small Town, Big Walk!

Western Queensland Road Trip #13 Eulo

With a population of just 48, the outback town of Eulo might be small in numbers but it has plenty of personality. And you can easily explore all the sights on foot, from one end of town to the other.

On the corner where the Adventure Way enters town and becomes Leo Street, you’re greeted by a giant lizard who’s seen better days. It’s a relic of the famous Eulo Lizard Races, held annually for 30 years up to 2000.

Nearby stands a memorial connected to the lizard races which, at first glance, appears quite ordinary. But the dedication to champion racing cockroach “Destructo” tells of his unfortunate demise at the peak of his career.

While lizards and cockroaches might reside in Eulo now, huge diprotodons, ancestors of today’s wombats and koalas, lived here during the Pleistocene Epoch up to 2.5 million years ago. The largest of Australia’s megafauna, the plant-eating diprotodon weighed as much as 2.8 tonnes.

The historic Eulo Police Cells are a reminder of days not so long ago. Built in 1923 to replace the original jail cells, which were destroyed by termites, these tiny rooms would have been uncomfortable for those unlucky to be imprisoned in the heat of summer.

Opposite the old police cells on Leo Street is the Eulo Queen Hotel, named for Isabel Robinson who moved to the town with her second husband Richard Robinson in 1886. Together they owned a general store and a butcher’s shop as well as the local hotel, and Isabel added to her fortune by acquiring opals from local miners. Her reputation as the Eulo Queen was enhanced by her habit of “entertaining” the hotel’s patrons while her husband conveniently looked the other way.

No such entertainment is available at the hotel today but enjoying a cool drink while seated on one of the hotel’s unique bar stools is a refreshing alternative.

Further along the street is an unusual structure you wouldn’t expect to find in the outback – an Anderson air raid shelter, built during the second World War to protect residents in case of attack by Japanese forces. The decision to build an air raid shelter was made by the government of the time, as Eulo was a crucial communication link between Darwin and Sydney. It was made long enough to fit up to 50 people, but luckily the need to protect the townspeople never eventuated.

The Japanese may never have attacked but there have been other times when Eulo’s residents have needed protection. When flooding rains come the Paroo River quickly breaks its banks, closing the highway and isolating those on either side. A modified truck has long been used to negotiate floodwaters, carrying both people and goods. Five years ago when the old flood truck was replaced with a modern version, it took up residence in a place of honour next to the store in recognition of its service to the community.

There’s no chance of the bridge over the river going underwater during the current prolonged drought.

Past the bridge, Leo Street once again becomes the Adventure Way and heads further west – time to stop walking and get back in your car!

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River Walk

Western Queensland Road Trip #11 Cunnamulla

For much of the day, the harsh light of the outback is almost blinding, bleaching the landscape of its colour. A few hours later, in the softer light of late afternoon, nature’s hues become richer and more mellow.

When we first see the Warrego River at Cunnamulla late in the day, we can’t help noting the contrast with the Maranoa River in Mitchell. After recent heavy rainfall further north, the river flows deep and full. It’s the perfect time to enjoy Riverwalk, a 1.6 km track beside the Warrego.

Surprisingly, the path leads at first away from the river to the flood plains beyond its banks. Floodwater still pools in some gullies, but where it has evaporated thick dark mud is all that remains.

Baked hard by the relentless heat of the sun, the mud shrinks as it dries leaving deep crazy-paved cracks overlaid with the tracks left by passing animals. Tiny specks of green remind us that water is all that is needed for life to regenerate.

In the quiet of this afternoon, there’s not a lot of wildlife around. A long-necked turtle, secure inside his shell, refuses to greet us and even the meat ants are nowhere to be seen around their huge mounded nest. If we banged hard enough they would rush out in defence of the nest, but that would be asking for trouble so we leave them in peace.

In this flat landscape even the slightest elevation gives a sense of distance. From a raised viewing platform, it’s easy to see where the flood plain gives way to the mulga scrub native to this part of western Queensland.

Eventually we arrive at the river bank. With the sun behind us and much lower in the sky, the shadows of the majestic red river gums along the bank stretch out over the water.

A lone pelican drifts lazily with the current while a large egret stands motionless, probably on the lookout for his dinner. A whistling kite soars gracefully overhead and, although we can hear the raucous calls of cockatoos settling in the trees, we see only a feather fallen to the ground.

We reach the end of the path as the sun sets. The sky begins to fade from blue to gold, before turning that fiery red typical of the end of day in the outback.

The sun drops below the horizon in minutes, but its glow remains for a time. The last rays of light burnish the river gums and light our way back across the bridge into town.

The river puts on one last display, creating a mirror image of the sky above before all the colour of the outback is lost in complete darkness.

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Outback History

Western Queensland Road Trip #7 Charleville

The small town of Charleville, established when the first hotel was built in 1865, now has a population of around 3,500 people. Despite its isolated location in outback Queensland, Charleville has a rich history full of intriguing personalities and interesting places.

The building now known as the Charleville Historic House Museum has stood on Alfred Street since 1887. Originally the town’s first bank, it was also a boarding house before being purchased by the local Historical Society in the 1970s.

In the main room, the vault once used by the bank to store money now holds precious documents and records. The museum is full to the brim with dozens of items once used in everyday life, while outside is a collection of vehicles and machines from bygone times.

Two more relics of the past stand proudly at the Graham Andrews Parklands on the Mitchell Highway.

The Steiger Vortex Guns are two of six built in 1902 in Brisbane on the orders of the Government Meteorologist Clement Wragge. He’d heard about the guns being used in Austria to prevent hailstorms in wine growing areas. By firing ammunition into clouds, storms were dispersed. Vibrations in the clouds also caused rain to fall and Clement hoped similar guns might be used to break a long running drought in outback Queensland. He brought his guns to Charleville and, on 26 September 1902, ten shots from each cannon were fired into the sky. Sadly the experiment was a failure – no rain fell in Charleville that day.

The Charleville base of the Royal Flying Doctor Service is located further along the Mitchell Highway at the airport. Founded by the Reverend John Flynn, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has provided medical care to those living in outback Australia since 1928.

At the Visitor Centre, videos explain the history of the service and dramatic recordings bring to life the first hand experiences of patients and their families. Displays of historic medical equipment and radio technology are compared with 21st century methods of health care in the outback.

The hangar used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service dates from 1943. It was built as part of the occupation of Charleville Airport by the United States 45th Air Base Group, 43rd Bombardment Group, 63rd and 65th Bomb Squadrons and the 8th Material Squadron during the Second World War. From 1942 to 1943 more than 3,500 US servicemen lived at the top secret site, which was used to store and maintain American B-17 Bombers. Most of the structures built to cater for the servicemen are long gone, but the foundations of mess halls and shower blocks remain as evidence of the war time activities in this remote posting.

Many of those American servicemen would have enjoyed themselves at the Saturday night dances at the Hotel Corones. Built by Greek migrant Harry Corones in the 1920s, the hotel was famous for its luxurious interiors – marble floors, beautiful furniture and a grand staircase leading to the first floor where the accommodation included ensuite bathrooms, a rare luxury otherwise not seen outside of Brisbane.

An afternoon tour of the hotel tells the story of Harry’s rise from penniless immigrant to successful business man and visionary. Visitors can order a drink at the bar, once the biggest in the southern hemisphere, and climb the silky oak staircase to the rooms where dignitaries including Princess Alexandra, performer Gracie Fields and Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam have stayed. The tour ends in the dining room with an afternoon tea of scones, jam and cream.

A stroll along the Wadyanana Pathway on the banks of the Warrego River soon works off that delicious afternoon tea. Charleville is located on traditional Bidjara lands and the pathway, designed by local Bidjara residents, tells the story of Mundagudda, the Rainbow Serpent.

It’s also a timely reminder that this land was occupied long before that first hotel was built in 1865.

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Over, Under and Back Again

Canada #40 Montréal

As we explored the streets of downtown Montréal, we often caught glimpses of the elegant curves and contrasting geometric patterns of Jacques-Cartier bridge.

Built in 1930, the bridge spans the St Lawrence River and is 3,425.6 metres long. Originally named the Harbour Bridge, it was renamed in 1934 in honour of the French explorer Jacques Cartier, commemorating his first voyage along the St Lawrence River 400 years before.

With more than 35.8 million vehicles using the bridge every year, it is the third busiest in Canada and it’s not restricted to cars and buses. A sidewalk on one side of the bridge caters for pedestrians and cyclists while on the opposite side there’s a pedestrian only walkway. With amazing views of the river and the city, we knew this was going to be a walk with a difference.

Our walk began on the approach viaduct, where only a low cement wall separated us from five lanes of traffic. At the start, the sidewalk seemed as busy as the road. We had to be careful to stay on the right and listen for the warning bells as cyclists came up behind us.

Further along it became less busy, as those on bicycles hurtled past and regular walkers hurried on their way. We dawdled, admiring the views of the city, picking out familiar landmarks and watching as ferries and boats passed far below.

The views above us, of the huge steel trusses crosshatched against the blue sky, were equally as impressive.

Around the halfway mark where the bridge passes over St Helen’s Island, we came to a doorway leading to a staircase. We assumed the steps would take us down to ground level where we expected to find a corresponding staircase in the opposite pylon.

Instead, the steps went down just one level. An enclosed walkway one floor below the road was decorated with a colourful timeline of the bridge’s construction. Again we took our time, learning more about the history of the bridge.

At the far end, we climbed up the stairs to the pedestrian only sidewalk. With no need to keep an eye out for cyclists, we could stop at any time to enjoy more views of the river and the city. From our elevated position we heard the screams of people on the rollercoasters at a nearby fun park.

As we left the bridge and walked once more along the approach viaduct, we stopped and turned back for one last look. Luckily, with an pedestrian underpass nearby, we didn’t have to brave the traffic to cross the road!

 

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More Than a Battlefield

Canada #36 Québec

On 13 September 1759, two opposing armies met on the grassy plains above the St Lawrence River in a battle which lasted less than an hour. The area known as the Plains of Abraham was named after Abraham Martin, a fisherman and river pilot who had farmed the land a century before. French troops, under the command of Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, were overwhelmed by British Army and Royal Navy forces, led by General James Wolfe. Five days later, the city of Québec surrendered to Britain.

More than 250 years later, the Plains of Abraham National Battlefields Park is a place of peace, remembrance and contemplation. Markers commemorating the battle are placed throughout the gardens, detailing important moments and the people who took part.

After overnight showers the morning air is cool and damp and raindrops hang heavy on flowers in the gardens.

It’s a quiet weekday morning and the only creatures we meet are hungry squirrels foraging for breakfast…

and these quirky musical penguins.

Water plays in the centennial fountain, constructed in 1967 to celebrate 100 years since the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick united to form one independent nation.

Beyond the manicured lawns and neatly kept gardens, the grass is longer and the path, now just a narrow dirt track, leads to the top of Cap Diamant. We come to a Martello tower, strategically placed high above the St Lawrence River. Once a defensive fort housing a garrison of soldiers, the tower is now a small museum.

Following the path along the edge of the ridge, we arrive at Terrasse Pierre Dugua-De Mons. From this elevated vantage point, we admire again the wide expanse of Dufferin Terrace, the elegance of Château Frontenac and the St Lawrence River, silvery under the overcast sky.

Later, on our way home, we come across memorials to the two leaders of that long ago battle on the Plains of Abraham. Both died after being wounded by musket balls; General Wolfe not long after the battle began and the Marquis de Montcalm the following day.

They may have been on opposing sides in 1759 but today they are equally remembered for the roles they played in Québec’s colourful history.

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Feel the Beat

Canada #35 Québec

The beating of drums drowned out the sounds of early morning commuters as we entered Old Québec through Porte St Jean. Next to Artillery Park, a sergeant of the Compagnies Franche gave a stirring speech encouraging us to join the Governor’s guard. As an added incentive, an artillery man fired his musket, the blast disturbing birds resting in nearby trees.

We weren’t tempted to enlist. Instead, we joined Canada Parks guide Pierre-Olivier for a walk along the ramparts of Québec City.

The fortified walls surrounding Old Québec are the only remaining city walls in North America north of Mexico. Recognised as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Site of Canada, the defensive system of walls dates from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Beginning at Porte St Jean, we climbed to the top of the ramparts. While we enjoyed views of the old city and the newer areas beyond the ramparts, we learned how the walls were constructed, looked inside a soldier’s casemate, fortified to protect the guns inside, and learned how ammunition was stored in the powder magazine.

When our walk with Pierre-Olivier ended at Porte St Louis, we continued along the ramparts to La Promenades des Gouverneurs, a walkway built in 1958 to commemorate Québec’s 350th anniversary.

The 655 metre path clings to the side of Cap Diamant, where the fortifications of the old city are still visible. We stopped many times to admire the broad expanse of the mighty St Lawrence River.

After descending 310 steps we arrived at Terrasse Dufferin, named for Lord Dufferin, Governor General of Canada from 1872 to 1878. It was due to his intervention that Québec’s famous city walls were saved from demolition, before being repaired and restored. In his final act as Governor General, Lord Dufferin laid the foundation stone for the terrace that bears his name.

The 671 metre boardwalk, high above the river, leads from the promenade to the base of Château Frontenac, Québec’s famous luxury hotel, opened in 1893.

At the end of the terrace, we boarded the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec for an ride down the steep hill to Petit-Champlain and Place Royale, site of the first French settlement in North America in 1608. It was easy to imagine we’d been transported to 17th century France as we wandered along cobblestoned streets past beautiful French styled buildings.

Before parting ways with Pierre-Olivier earlier in the day, we’d asked him what he would suggest we do in Québec. His recommendation – a 12 minute ferry ride across the St Lawrence River to Lévis. After several hours of walking, it made a nice change to sit on the outside deck enjoying the cool breeze. From the ferry terminal, we walked along Quai Paquet, where children played among 160 jets of a fountain set into the pavement.

A red wooden staircase zigzagging up the cliff beckoned and, with no idea what was at the top, we climbed up. All we found was a quiet suburban street, but when we turned around the view over the river to Québec City, with Château Frontenac towering above the old town, was stunning.

After returning on the ferry, we joined the crowds in front of the Fresque des Québécois mural, painted on the side of Maison Soumande. The beautifully detailed mural depicts fifteen of Québec’s most important historical people, including the city’s founder Samuel de Champlain and its protector, Lord Dufferin.

Instead of ascending on the funiculaire, we climbed our third set of stairs for the day. The Escalier Casse-Cou, also known as the Breakneck Stairs because of their steep incline, are the city’s oldest steps, built in 1635. When we reached the top, we had one last Québecois destination in mind – Chocolato. This chocolate themed café on Rue Saint-Jean has an incredible range of ice creams, sorbets and sundaes and the most difficult decision of the whole day was what to choose. After much deliberation, we ordered sundaes; mine was a Forêt Noir, Glen’s a Caramel Royal.

Our day ended where it had begun, at Porte St Jean, but this time the beating we could hear was not the drums calling us to action, but our hearts as we savoured every delicious mouthful of our afternoon treats.

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A Different View

Canada #32 Montmorency Falls 

The splendour of Montmorency Falls can be seen from many vantage points, each one crowded with visitors to the highest waterfall in Québec.

A wide suspension bridge over the Montmorency River passes above the water just where it tumbles over the cliff edge. From the bridge, a panoramic vista extends beyond the river’s junction with the Saint Lawrence River to downtown Québec City 12 kilometres away.

Platforms and staircases on both sides look out over the 84 metre high falls. To the right, the viewing decks are enveloped by dense forest while, on the left, 487 steps lead down the steep gravelled slope to the base of the falls.

At the bottom of the staircase is another platform where a cloud of mist envelopes everything. Raincoats and ponchos are no barrier to the power of the water.

A path at the bottom of the staircase goes along the river bank to a footbridge which leads to the visitor centre. Inside the centre is the lower terminal for the Funitel, an aerial tram rising above the river and forest-covered slopes to Montmorency Manor.

For those with a sense of adventure, a ride on a 300 metre zipline goes closest of all to the cascading water.

We find two more ways to view the Montmorency River and, unlike the crowded viewing platforms and staircases, we share them with just a few other people.

From the side of the suspension bridge an unmarked path leads upstream through the forest, taking us away from the falls.

The path ends where Avenue Royale crosses over the river; the calm water flowing under the bridge gives no indication of what lies a little further downstream.

Later, near the visitor centre, we spy another path beyond the train tracks. This one, lined by water meadows filled with wildflowers, takes us to the opposite side of the river and almost to the base of the falls.

A fallen log makes the perfect picnic seat and we linger after our lunch is eaten. We have the best view of Montmorency Falls – almost to ourselves.

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