Heading west along the Barkly Highway, we stopped at Barcaldine, the place to which the Australian Labour Party owes its existence. There’s a tree – the Tree of Knowledge – that marks the historic arguments between shearers and bosses, and under which negotiations led to some semblance of peace between the two, and an understanding that no one works for free.
Today an amazing commemorative artwork is constructed over the now dead tree. A massive shed houses a negative of a Eucalypt canopy, all made from perfect wood columns. It’s impressive, and worth stopping for. At night it’s lit up!
On our way to Longreach we saw what was possibly the most roadkill of furry creatures we’ve ever seen! Both Jez and I agreed that nowhere we’d been compared to this. We decided to do a few 1km transect counts of dead roos and furry things, and we averaged 65 dead furry things PER KILOMETRE between Barcaldine and Longreach. Insane. It was a blanket of death. Coming to the roadside green pick during severe drought for the past few years had been their downfall.
Longreach was our next School of Ants stop. Longreach State High School signed up and I was visiting them on May the 10th. We stayed at the same caravan park as we had done on our way up to Cape York four years ago, so we were somewhat familiar with the town already. Brolgas stalked through the park each day, and hoppy dogs (roos – thanks Mick, we call everything a hoppy something now!) were abundant pretty much everywhere you looked.
The van park was also the site of two memorable experiences – Mia’s ANTstravanza (that she blogged about here) and us meeting an astronomer on the same night as antstravaganza, who spent a couple of hours with us the following night, showing us all manner of astro-wonders. We learnt about the large Magellenic cloud, nebula clusters, saw Jupiter, alpha centauri and others. Mia was doing her space unit at school at the time too, so it was perfect timing to improve our telescope confidence.
Along the main road into Longreach there’s a linear botanic garden, which also has stories of pioneers, bushmen and women, and outback heroes. It’s flat and fabulous! There’s shade when you need it, and little exercise stations, and from our caravan park we easily rode our bikes to the QANTAS Founders Museum and the Stockman’s Hall of Fame as well as into town. I even went for a few runs along it! Miracle. One of our highlights was definitely that linear garden and path, which allowed us to do so much bike riding.
At the QANTAS museum we took control of a biplane in the flight simulator they have there, and had a tour on a Boeing 747 that they’ve got parked there permanently. Wowsers! It’s enormous! The girl who did the tour was young, and very knowledgeable about the aircraft, right down to cool stories about QANTAS having to extend the liquid waste spout because there was too much coca cola being disposed of and making big brown skid marks on the underside of the planes! AND, did you know that the black box is actually orange?!
Our tour also took us through a jet that once belonged to Michael Jackson and was decked out with gold leaf trimmings and cushioned toilet seats, mirrored bedroom walls and Waterford crystal lamp bases. Noice. But besides all the fun stuff, we loved learning more about the start of an air service that saved and took lives, where determined men and women worked tirelessly to bring services to isolated Australia. Many of our overseas trips now would be very different if it wasn’t for QANTAS in the early days.
On a work day for Jezza, the kids and I went to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame to see a show they had on at the time. It was a drover/horseman/bushie and entertainer named Lachie Cosser who sang songs, rode horses and bulls, and worked all manner of dogs around sheep! He was pretty funny, especially singing while playing the guitar standing on top of a giant bull called Jigsaw! There were goats and dogs in the audience, and I’m sure that the kids and I brought the average age there down by about 35 years. We bought Lachie’s CD, and it has now become our anthem album for driving in the outback. Song number 6 – NO COWBOYS – is Charlie’s favourite, and Mia likes one called ROLLIN’. I am uninstalling repeat on our car CD as soon as possible……
We loved seeing the brolgas each day, but learned that most people in Longreach call them ‘tip birds’. Always scavenging in the rubbish, hanging around making a nuisance of themselves, they said. Pah, we’ll keep our more outback romantic view of them, dancing in the soft sunsets and strutting past our van pretending to be really cool!
The School of Ants day was with senior students at Longreach State High, who were responsible and fun. I was able to give them my cameras and talk ethics of using insects in research, as well as write a short report about the data we collected. While I was on ants, Jez and the kids rode around the town, visited the Powerhouse Museum, ate icy poles and communed with more brolgas.
I couldn’t leave Longreach without buying an Akubra hat. I have definitely inherited a love of the bush from my Dad, and buying an Akubra in the outback in the year of my 40th birthday just seemed like the right thing to do. Hell, I’ll be able to wear it the rest of the way around the country! So on the way out of town we stopped at the Hall of Fame where I’d spied ‘the one’! I felt like I’d tried on so many Akubras or similar, and that I’d never find one that I felt comfortable in. But I did, so I pounced on it. And I’m glad. I feel so Aussie with it on! It gives weight to my comfort in, and love of the Australian bush and its people. It’s a keeper J
So it was then off into the land of dinosaurs…. Winton here we come!