The long reach on the Thompson River was once a place where stockman and bullock drovers rested their cattle but now it is a quite different respite. Instead of bullock drays and huge herds of cattle and mobs of sheep, today on the Thompson outside Longreach hundreds of ‘grey nomads’ gather with their campervans and caravans to take advantage of a free camp on their adventures into the outback and beyond. COVID has seen the incredible growth in the number of Australians exploring by road and has bought a boom in the economies of many small outback towns.
The major attractions at Longreach are the Qantas Founders Museum and the Stockman’s Hall of Fame. Both are wonderful museums and well worth the effort of making the long trip. We had been told to book but we took our chances and had no trouble getting in. The Founders Museum consists of three parts:- the hall with displays depicting stories and artefacts including a wonderful biplane simulation; the original hanger, office and a reproduction of one of the original aircraft and then there is the outdoor museum with a jumbo jet, and a few other aeroplanes not usually housed in a museum. This section is only accessible with the tour, which by the way, is excellent. The stories of these pioneer men and women, of their grit, their tenacity and their innovation, were inspiring.
The Stockman’s Hall of Fame is impressive. Firstly, the building itself is a wonderful architectural structure and the highly techy interactive displays are not what you would expect from a down to earth ‘stockman’.
Both museums are filled with incredible stories and information about the European experience of the outback. There is a section devoted to the aboriginal stockman in the Hall of Fame which acknowledges the significant contribution made by First Nations peoples. There is also another tribute to the multicultural nature of the people who roamed the outback including the Afghan people who traversed the country with their camels carrying an incredible variety of goods as well as the many Chinese hawkers who plied their wares to isolated homesteads and townships.
Driving through the country I was constantly struck by its vastness and ‘emptiness’. How on earth did aboriginal people survive in these parts? How did the first pioneers with their incredible ignorance survive these enormous distances? How far did they walk? Why? How many did not survive? Three and four generations back, my ancestors were pioneers in the Queensland outback and gold mining areas. I was constantly amazed with the landscape and imagined their struggle. One of the motivations for doing this road trip was to visit some of the places where our grandparents and great grandparents lived. I was on a fact-finding mission.