Day 3 and we travelled about four and a half hours from Agnes Waters to Blackwater, a coal mining town with a population of around 5000. I am always surprised by how much lack of variety there is in the Australian bush. We travelled for hours through scrub and mulga and every now and again came across insanely large fields of sorghum which (according to Wikipedia – a favourite source of info for me) is used for food, fodder and the production of alcoholic beverages. It is drought-tolerant and heat tolerant. A perfect crop for central Queensland.
We arrived mid-afternoon, Friday, and decided to search for a place to eat in the evening. Our accommodation didn’t offer evening meals, or for that matter breakfast on the weekends. The Blackwater Country Club was hosting a wake for a renowned individual and the pub next door didn’t have whatever it was that John was feeling like eating so we opted for the Capricorn Hotel. It was OK.
Saturday and we were off to Longreach. First stop, Emerald. Bigger, brighter and way more interesting than I expected. Breakfast and the crowd of soccer kids and hungry locals hinted at a haven for the hungry. Theo’s was impressive. Sated we ventured onwards.
Alpha. Well what can you say? Ancient outhouses stand proudly before slabs of solar energy panels, chunks of phosphate rock promise to be coal, petrified wood adorn the garden, a population of 335 is serviced by two hotels, the public amenities support one of twenty-seven impressive murals and the museum in Alpha is called Beta. It is time to get back on to the straight and narrow.
Next Barcaldine. I think it is absolutely fascinating that so many iconic moments in Australian history are based, not on ‘success’ but on striving against the odds. Burke and Wills, the Eureka Stockade, Gallipoli, Daisy, Molly and Gracie’s trek along the rabbit-proof fence and the 1891 failed shearers’ strike which inspired workers to band together in unions, call for an eight-hour working day and form their own political party. Here in this small town in outback Queensland on the 1st May 1891 was one of the first May day marches in the world. It was just great to be here.
And then there was Ilfracombe. Population- 259. Here at the Wellshot hotel they have the most impressive hat collection imaginable. As well there are two ceilings where you can literally throw your money away. It all goes to a good cause. In the ‘lounge’ the money raised in the first five months of the year was $20000 which went to the Black Dog Foundation. I tried my hand, but John’s technique was more successful. The idea was to wrap a note around a two-dollar coin and a drawing pin and throw it at the ceiling. It would stick. If you caught the coin before it hit the floor you scored a free drink. The unfurling of the note was extremely unpredictable and the chances of catching the coin Buckleys and none!
Then of course there is the municipal pool with a small plunge pool beside it fed by the Great Artesian Well where the temperature is always around 37 degrees. Here we soaked and met travellers from various parts of Australia ‘taking the waters’ and telling us of their exploits and adventures and sharing recommendations. We were well armed with destinations for the next year or two.