Tag Archive | Australia

Outback Roads

Western Queensland Road Trip #8

Covering vast distances, Australian country roads are wide, flat and often without a bend in sight.

The journey east starts here on the Warrego Highway, connecting Charleville to Brisbane 721 km away.

Once off the main roads, bitumen is replaced by dirt and the windows stay closed to keep the red bulldust out.

In tiny outback towns like Wyandra, the roads are wider than the house blocks.

Outback roads – often unnamed, not on any maps and going nowhere in particular.

 

Joining in with Becky’s October Lines and Squares

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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.

Join Jo for Monday Walks

Staring Into Space

Western Queensland Road Trip #6 Charleville

Have you ever stared into the night sky and wondered what’s out there, or imagined what life would be like as an astronaut? You’ll find the answers to these questions and more at the Charleville Cosmos Centre and Observatory.

Charleville is more than 750 km from the coast and, with a population of less than 3,500 and very little light pollution, it’s the perfect site for a space observatory. Appropriately located on Milky Way Road, the Cosmos Centre comprises an indoor exhibition and cafĂ© and an outdoor observatory, where telescopes operate during the day and at night.

Enter the Cosmos shuttle and you are instantly transported to the world of an astronaut, where eating, drinking and even using the bathroom are challenges in a weightless environment. Videos show footage of astronauts working in space, from the first moon landing to recent residents of the International Space Station.

During an astronomy talk, a Cosmos guide passes round pieces of a billion year old meteorite and explains how space junk falls back to Earth after passing through its atmosphere.

Quirky facts make the idea of living in outer space seem very attractive.

At the outdoor observatory a daytime visit starts with a talk about the sun, detailing fascinating facts about its small stature compared with more distant stars, its composition and life span.

The sliding roof of the observatory is pushed back just enough to give the solar telescope a clear view of the sun. It appears in the telescope’s eyepiece as a huge red ball, and what look like fine red hairs sticking out from the edge are massive solar flares. A tiny black dot in the middle is a sunspot ten times larger than Earth.

For more amazing celestial views, return to the Cosmos Centre after dark for an evening presentation. Guides with a passion for astronomy lead you on a journey through the Milky Way and beyond, using large Meade telescopes to see distant diamond star clusters and planets. Any constellations visible above the horizon are identified and described.

While the thought of stars being many light years distant is hard to comprehend, our nearest neighbour the Moon seems relatively close. Viewed through one of the powerful telescopes, the detail on the Moon’s surface is so clear you can almost imagine yourself as one of those astronauts you’ve learned about earlier in the day.

After spending a few hours at the Cosmos Centre, a visit to the International Space Station might well be added to your bucket list.

 

Back From The Brink

Western Queensland Road Trip #5 Charleville

Everyone is familiar with Australia’s native animals the koala and the kangaroo. But you may not have heard of another of our favourites, the bilby.

Bilbies are desert-dwelling nocturnal marsupials. Once their habitat covered more than 70% of Australia but with the importation of foxes, rabbits and cats their numbers have declined to the point where they have been declared a vulnerable species. In western Queensland, there are fewer than 600 bilbies living in the wild.

In an effort to prevent the extinction of bilbies, the Save the Bilby Fund was established in 1999. The fund’s ongoing vision is to preserve and protect bilbies by developing a captive breeding program and creating a predator free zone within Currawinya National Park where mature bilbies can be released and monitored.

The fund’s home base is the Charleville Bilby Experience at the historic Charleville Railway Station.

Displays explain the bilbies’ life cycle, behaviour and diet. They are excellent diggers and construct several long burrows close to each other. Like many Australian native animals they are marsupials; their young live in a pouch. Similar to wombats, a bilby’s pouch opens at the back. This prevents dirt from going in when the bilby is digging.

A full size model depicts the predator proof fence constructed at Currawinya.

The main attraction at the centre is the nocturnal house, where bilbies can be seen in an enclosure replicating their natural desert environment. Only a couple of these swift moving animals are on show at any time. Their appearance is distinctive, with silky fur, large ears and a long white tipped tail. As they dart around logs in the darkened enclosure, they’re little more than a blur – it’s difficult to capture a clear image.

With the help of the Save the Bilby Fund, these endearing creatures should be able to stay one step ahead of extinction.

Not a Drop

Western Queensland Road Trip #4 Mitchell

There must have been good rainfall in western Queensland in the first half of 1846.

When the explorer Thomas Mitchell passed through that autumn on his fourth expedition, he found lush green pastures and bushland filled with wild life. The river flowing through the area was teeming with fish while birds were plentiful in the trees on its banks.

Mitchell named the river Maranoa, an aboriginal word meaning “duck egg”. His journal entries made much of the abundance of fresh food, which was a welcome addition to his expedition party’s diet.

When we visited Mitchell’s campsite on the Maranoa River 173 years later, the scene was very different. After six months with no rain, the bush was tinder dry and the river’s course was only recognisable by the wide expanse of water worn pebbles between the tree-lined banks.

The town of Mitchell, named after the explorer, is located downstream from where he set up camp. Where the bridge into town passed over the river, pools of water reflecting the bright blue sky were all that remained of the Maranoa.

The Neil Turner Weir, on the northern side of Mitchell, was built on the river in 1984 to store water for irrigation, aquatic sports and fishing.

With not a drop of water to be seen, there was no chance of a swim let alone a risk of flash flooding.

A local farmer we met summed it up in typically succinct outback style. “We’ve had no rain since November. It’s diabolical.”

Since our visit rain has fallen, but not enough to break the drought. Thomas Mitchell would not find fish on his dinner plate if he came to western Queensland now.

 

Bush Ballerinas

Western Queensland Road Trip #3 Gubberamunda State Forest

The wide expanse of Grafton Terrace Road is deceptive. While the track’s surface looks firm enough, the red sandy soil can be slippery, at times grabbing the tyres of our car and forcing them in a new direction, as if they have a life of their own. Luckily we’re in no hurry, driving at a speed which still allows for control over the steering wheel.

We’re headed north east of Roma to Gubberamunda State Forest, looking for ballerinas in the bush.

For a long time we peer out of the car windows, seeing none and wondering if we’ve gone too far and missed them altogether. Then suddenly we come across not just one or two, but dozens on the side of the road.

Xanthorrhoea johnsonii, commonly known as Johnsons Grass Tree or Queensland Grass Tree, is native to Australia and grows all over western Queensland. In this part of the state forest a stand of grass trees numbering in the hundreds flourishes.

Growing up to 5 metres tall and living for as long as 600 years, grass trees are instantly recognisable by their rough trunks, often blackened by bushfires, and the tuft of long grass-like leaves springing from the top. Old dried foliage bends downwards creating a “skirt” around the trunk.

With a light breeze lifting the leaves, the trees seem like dancers ready to twirl and flick their ballet tutus.

The playful addition of sunglasses almost brings Cousin It to life.

Although the soil quality is poor and there’s been no rain for months, the bush is well and truly alive. Purple nightshade flowers stand out brightly against the red surrounds while circular ant hills are like tiny sculptures, each one precisely and perfectly constructed.

purple nightshade

Our attention returns the grass trees for, although we’ve seen them elsewhere in Queensland, the sheer number here is spectacular. It’s as if a whole company of dancers is about to take to the stage.

In the Bottle

Western Queensland Road Trip #2 Roma

In western Queensland, the landscape is punctuated by native trees with a distinctive shape. Brachychiton rupestris, commonly known as the Queensland bottle tree, has a bottle shaped trunk designed to store water in the dry climate.

A very unusual specimen has been planted in the garden at the Miles Historical Village.

Further west in Roma, the more typical type of bottle tree is celebrated.

With more than 100 years’ growth, the largest bottle tree in the Roma district has a circumference of 9.51 metres and a canopy spreading more than 20 metres across.

More bottle trees line many of Roma’s wide streets. In 1918, 140 trees were planted by local families in remembrance of their loved ones – soldiers lost on the battlefields of World War One.

All along the heritage listed avenue, plaques beside the trees acknowledge the service of each soldier.

These trees hold precious memories as well as water!