Outback Queensland:  Longreach

The pretty little town of Longreach on the Tropic of Capricorn is about 1500 km NW from Brisbane, about 700 km West from Rockhampton, and about four kilometres inland from the surprisingly massive Thomson River.  I asked a woman in the Tourist Information Centre why the town was called “Longreach” and was told:

  • Well, it’s a pretty long reach to the river …

That may indeed be the origin of its name – and certainly, in the town’s early days people with goat carts used to trudge all four kilometres out to the river to collect barrels of water and trudge all four kilometres back to the budding township, built on the edge of the river’s flood plains. 

However a quick look at www.queenslandplaces.com.au/longreach shows that she was not quite right, as a large waterhole on a long reach of the river was chosen for the rail head and that the town was subsequently gazetted in 1897.

Distances in Outback Australia are often immense, with rural properties stretching for hundreds of square kilometres.  The Longreach regional area is about 40,600 km2 – or about the same size as Denmark or The Netherlands … but it has a declining population of just 4000 happy graziers, baristas and teachers … compared to the 17.5 million tulip-growing, clog-wearing and thumb-in-damming Dutch.  About 6% of the Longreach population are Yiningayi First Nation people.

Water wildlife

For many people, the mention of “The Outback” suggests vast dry and dusty red plains with tumbling spinifex balls rolling along rutted and potholed streets.  The truth at Longreach is very different.

Longreach Railway Station

The 1937 water tower (see * feature image, LEFT) near the Railway Station is perhaps the town’s most photographed and most readily identifiable landmark.  It is just over forty metres high and stores about 500,000 litres of water, presumably drawn from the Thomson, and providing plenty of water to keep the town fresh and green.  All streets running East and West are named after water birds (Corella Lane, Galah Street, Eagle Street – you get the idea) while land birds are honoured in the North-South streets.

Brolga statues at town’s edge

On the edge of the town is a splendid sculpture of two brolgas, and on a morning stroll along the Flood Plain Walk to the river I came across a lazy pelican drifting on the lake at Beersheba Place, and some ducks paddling in the river as I swam beside them.

When my nephew heard I had gone skinny dipping with the ducks in the Thomson River, he sent me this delightful image

On my way back to the town a magpie cheekily swooped me not realising that the breeding and “swooping” season was officially over. Someone should give the Longreach birds a calendar … and someone should teach some ducks some manners.

……….

I visited the town out of season. 

From November to March the town more or less shuts down as summer temperatures can make life pretty torrid, and many attractions are not offered. 

I wanted to take a ride on the splendid 1924 Pride of the Murray paddle steamer at sunset to see more birds.  The boat was trucked up to Longreach from Echuca in Victoria in June this year, and in “the season” it paddles its way along the river, but – sorry – not operating just at the moment.  The inner pioneer or cowboy – or just kid – in me also wanted to ride the old Cobb and Co stagecoach as it gallooped through the bush.  Sorry – not operating.

Longreach Accommodation

For a small town, Longreach has a good range of accommodation options – although “in the season” I understand that they are all booked out months in advance.  On this journey I stayed at The Staging Post – an interesting place in the centre of the town.

Welcome Home and Central Hotels, Eagle Street

The old Welcome Home Hotel and the old Central Hotel have now been knocked together and offer a heritage taste of the old buckin’ bronco days.  Several interconnected shops offer a good array of country goods and on the western side of Eagle Street is the main part of the Staging Post – Reception, restaurant (sorry – not operating) and The Coach House – a comfortable row of motel-style suites.

Across the road but still part of The Staging Post are The Stables www.outbackpioneers.com.au/stay/the-stables – slightly more up-market (and more expensive), but these rooms offer very comfortable beds, lots of old corrugated iron, exposed copper piping, polished concrete slabs and are designed to give visitors …

  • … evocative and quirky touches inspired by the pioneer era …

There are several pubs in town, but only one – The Commercial – offers accommodation in its Central Motel.  I am told that the rooms are comfortable enough, but that noise can be a bit of a problem at night.  Not so at The Staging Post, where absolute silence was a real bonus.

Most accommodation is further out from the centre – so a car is almost essential to get to the other resorts and to the attractions.  One place perhaps stands out – the Saltbush Retreat. 

It is close to several attractions and offers two or three standards of accommodation – and prices. Perhaps its best feature is the outdoor bathing terrace, with side-by-side claw-footed hip baths overlooking the bush where guests can apparently enjoy sunset canapés and a relaxing soak.  I am not sure if the baths are co-educational or clothing optional or if they are for fully clad bathers only … but the idea is a great one!

What to do?

In May each year Opera Queensland travels to the outback and presents a series of concerts under the stars in Longreach and Winton.  This – along with the fabulous food served on Queensland Railways Spirit of the Outback overnight sleeper train to Longreach – is just about enough reason to head West.

But wait – there’s more!

An interactive display at the Hall of Fame – visitors can make the dogs jump and bark!

The Stockman’s Hall of Fame is an excellent museum for just about all things rural, although I found that there was very little credit paid to the First Nations people whose contribution to the early days of cattle and sheep grazing and growing was invaluable. 

An Afghan Cameleer working in the Outback

Greater tribute is paid to the Afghan cameleers who worked with the mobs of camels imported to this country and who became, to some extent, travelling salesmen for goodies not normally obtainable at outback stores.

* A Hugh Sawrey painting of cattlemen and women

The Hall has interactive tours and is interesting, well-presented and totally engrossing.  The “tour guide” is a recorded voice from famous stockman, pioneer, outback hero Hugh Sawrey (1919 – 1999), who was largely responsible for the creation of this wonderful resource.

Display screen with up-to-date details of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Red dot is Longreach

In the winter season there is also a live show which I imagine has cowboys lassoing animals, cattle dogs doing cattle dog things and sheep being sheep.  Even in the off-season this place is worth a good visit of a couple of hours.

An interesting corner in the QANTAS Museum

The Qantas Founders’ Museum is nearby and while I found it quite interesting, I cannot really say that visitors MUST go there … unless they want to spend quite a few dollars more and go walking out on the wing of a Boeing 747 aeroplane.  Oh yes – their little café serves superb scones and jam and cream!

I wanted to go jammin’ with the Longreach Town Brass Band.  The local newspaper – The Longreach Leader – published every Friday – told me that this band would be rehearsing at the local State School at 6.00 pm one day I was there.  I went to the school.  I circumnavigated the school.  I tuned my ears this way and that to hear a few brassy notes or even a terrific tuba tapenade … to no avail.  Ah well … Back to the motel and a quiet evening after all.

I did not find the Town Band, but Outback artist Donna Rivers provided me with a good graphic in her one-man show at the Sawrey Gallery, Stockman’s Hall of Fame

There is a delightful walk from the Stockman’s Hall of Fame back into town. It is perhaps two kilometres long but only five or so metres wide and is called the Linear Botanical Gardens Walk.  I am not a great gardener and I do not usually go out of my way to visit botanical gardens in cities where I may find myself, but this walk is wonderful and in a couple of years, when the trees are more mature and can offer a more comfortable shade covering, it will be an exceptional experience.

Designed by Landscape Architect Lawrie Smith, the garden stretches along the Landsborough Highway and the Sir Hudson Fysh Drive (named for Tasmanian Wilmot Hudson Fysh, KBE DFC, a QANTAS founder) and features a diverse range of plants and trees – mostly native.  The land is hot and dry and rocky, so a slow drip-feed irrigation system and heaps of mulch are provided to keep everything alive and happy.  There are melaleucas, acacias, some lovely lemon-scented eucalypts, a few cassowaries, lots of bottle brush varieties and even more wattle varieties.

  • Wattle I do?  OK – go to LSDE

Nope – not the London School of Domestic Economics, although many remote Queensland housewives would perhaps welcome such a place – but the Longreach School of Distance Education.

As a former school master, I wanted to visit the LSDE, but tours were not available during my visit to Longreach.  The school provides lessons to kids from Prep to Grade 10 on remote properties many kilometres from any school.

COVID-19 made almost every school in the world adopt new ways of teaching kids, with on-line learning and teaching.  The LSDE has done this for many years with on-line and on-air lessons for kids in “a classroom twice the size of Victoria”.

A really lovely thing about remote education is the occasional chance for kids to come together and to meet face-to-face, and to play together and to work together and to have fun together – all activities denied to them while they are living on their parents’ remote rural properties.

Rachelle Moore, an LSDE teacher, had been coaching kids all over western Queensland for months via radio broadcasts and the Internet for a brilliant production of Robin and the Sherwood Hoodies, presented in Longreach at the end of November 2022.  She said that this production was:

  • … a boon to students’ self-development and self-confidence … so that when they go off to boarding school, they have the courage to say, “I can do that, I can be part of a choir or a musical.”

I wish I had still been in town when the show hit the stage, but my flight out meant I could only say to one of the kids bopping around the town in her green Robin Hoodies T-shirt

  • Break a leg!

… and then to explain that I did not really wish her any physical harm …

The Longreach Civic Centre was, no doubt, awash with floodlights, red carpets, flashing camera bulbs and enthusiastic television news reporters when these kids took the stage a week or so ago.  Long may they – and their teachers – live the dream.

Basic Instincts

The Branch Cafe – one of several good eating places in the main street

I ate at the Birdcage Hotel – good pub food but a very loud live band – and at the Kynda coffee shop which served very tasty Turkish rolls with generous fillings.  But my favourite during my short stay was the Merino Bakery.

Nope – no mutton or shaggy sheep sandwiches – but excellent salads and sandwiches and a huge cooler cabinet of rum balls, vanilla slices, Florentines and chocolate éclairs and … as well as ovens full of pies and sausage rolls and …

Tourist Info Centre: replica of the old QANTAS booking office

The old QANTAS booking office in Eagle Street is now a helpful tourist information centre – with great air-conditioning – and perhaps there visitors can find more information on “The Dirty Dozen”.

  • Clint Eastwood and George Clooney – eat your hearts out – or go to the Merino Bakery

Queensland’s Outback does seem to be a vast, inhospitable area of immense distances and remote cattle and sheep stations.  It seems to be an area where extreme heat and extreme floods can be a part of everyday life, and where Robin and the Hoodies is a cultural highlight of the year … but then there are the micro-nasties and macro-nasties visitors often forget – or even never think of.

All environments are essentially fragile – and the wilds of Outback Queensland are no exception.  Local councils have therefore provided numerous wash-down facilities in the region for trucks, cars, caravans and hovercrafts, to hose down their undercarriages to prevent the spread of the “dirty dozen” by removing grass seeds, and to prevent the spread of noxious plants including Coral Cactus, Sticky Florestina and Bellyache Bush.

These sound like the names from a good old Victorian melodrama:

  • No no, Lady Florestina!  Don’t aim the pistol at my bottom!
  • Aargh!  I have now developed a bit of a bellyache tush …

… but they are in fact, terrible botanical growths that have a serious impact on the local environment … as do the horrendous tribes or mobs or caterwauls of feral pigs, wild dogs and cats that have gone wild …

The road not taken …

As my time in Longreach was limited to just a few days, and as so many attractions were not open during the summer months, I did not get to see the Powerhouse Museum or the Arts and Crafts Centre.  No stagecoach rides nor any river cruises were possible and I did not see a single feral pig being harpooned by a rugged cowboy.

Cobb and Co coach mothballed for summer …

I guess I will just have to go back to Longreach in the winter – for some more experiences and to join the crowds for Opera in the Outback.

……………………………………..

Journey November 2022

Text and photographs © Christopher Hall December 2022

Photographs marked with an asterisk * are borrowed from Internet

……………………………………..

In my blogs I try to present a snapshot of the places I have discovered during a brief visit.   I am not trying to present a detailed picture of the whole city or the whole region or the whole country.

……………………………………..

If you enjoyed this story please scroll down to see earlier stories and forward the blog address to your friends: www.hallomega.com

If you would like to receive automatic notification of future postings on this blog please click the FOLLOW button on your screen.

……………………………………..

If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight.

  • Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero – On Friendship

……………………………………..

2 thoughts on “Outback Queensland:  Longreach

  1. Dear Chris, Another great read thank you. Have looked up both the Qantas and Stockmans hall of Fame both more than interesting. You would not know but Angela’s brother is married to Sir Sidney Kidmans great grandaughter and heir to the fortune. Angela became best friends with her ( Jane Ayers )at the age of 11 when they were both at Clyde school in Victoria. All the best and cheers, John.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s