Page 18

Longreach and Winton.


The roads were unbelievably quiet for the whole 450 kilometre journey from Emerald to Longreach. One little place we passed through was almost a ghost town. Jericho had wide streets with plenty of parking marked out in the centre of the road and along both sides. Ours apart, there was only one vehicle in sight. There were two petrol pumps at the kerb outside the Post Office. Neither worked. A brightly painted café next to the Post Office had Open on its sign. The building was empty. After a while a vehicle stopped outside the Post Office and a man, old even by my standards, got out and sat on a bench. He was reading a newspaper and didn't look up as we passed, our cheery greetings frozen on our lips. All that was missing was tumbleweed blowing down the main street and a door banging in the wind, so we availed ourselves of the public toilets and departed, slightly depressed.

Longreach, our destination, sits astride the Tropic of Capricorn. It had several places of interest to the tourist so we booked into the Gunnadoo Caravan Park on Thrush Road - all the streets are named after birds - and went out to assess the busy little town. Well, we gave the town a quick once-over and then assessed the Starlight's Hideout Tavern in more detail. You have to start somewhere. Memories of that evening became increasingly vague but next morning we awoke to find a family of brolgas outside our caravan door:-


Brolgas are cranes which stand up to 1.4 metres (4' 6") high.
They are light grey except for a peculiar pink decoration on their heads.

These brolgas were quite tame and two would take bread from my hand. Pam was not game to get too close as the male was only six inches shorter than she is and those beaks are fairly fearsome.

The Gunnadoo Caravan Park was able to accommodate about two hundred caravans. Our next door neighbours had stayed there two months earlier and said the place was chock-a-block. That evening, however, we counted a total of four caravans including our own. The reason was that, although it wasn't yet summer, every day the temperature peaked close to forty degrees. We still need to fine-tune this 'keeping ahead of the sun' business before we'll qualify for our Nomad Proficiency Certificates.

To give you some insight into Longreach, we went into a news agency for the morning papers. They don't arrive until the afternoon.

Longreach - a distinctive name. We enquired about its origin. The man in the Powerhouse Museum said the most common theory is that the name refers to the distance between the town and the pool in the Thomson River . . . but he doesn't accept that. He thinks it's more likely that it comes from an area on the Thames in London where convicts were loaded onto ships for transportation to the colonies. In the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame they said the name might have come from a local property of the same name, though where that property got the name isn't known. Another theory is that 'Longreach' refers to the distance to any major population centre.

We asked the same question of two of the staff in Starlight's Hideout Tavern, both being lifelong residents of the area. They didn't know the answer so we gave them an easy one. Who was Captain Starlight after whom the tavern was named? The first didn't know that either; the second thought he was a bad guy . . . or was he a good guy? The hotel's owner, Karen, however, knew the story well.

Captain Starlight was a fictitious name drawn from the Australian classic, Robbery Under Arms, written by Rolf Boldrewood in the 1880's. The character of Starlight was based on several bush rangers of the period including an ambitious cattle thief, Harry Redford. Or should that be Henry Readford, as one authority claims? Anyway, in 1870 Harry and two mates stole around 1,000 head of cattle from the Longreach area and drove them to South Australia where they sold them.

What became of Harry's mates isn't known but Harry returned to Queensland and was arrested and tried for his crimes in Roma. It would appear that the jury were as crooked as Harry and the main prosecution witness was a rogue and committed lunatic who was giving evidence in return for a pardon for himself. The jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty making Harry a legend and the judge furious. The verdict created an uproar in the press and Roma had its Criminal Court Jurisdiction withdrawn for two years.

Harry, who became widely known as Captain Starlight after the publication of Boldrewood's book, continued with his life of crime, specialising in horse theft. He was again brought to trial in Roma and again found not guilty. However, the next time he appeared in court it was in Toowoomba where he was jailed for eighteen months. He eventually drowned in Coreela Creek on Brunette Downs in 1901.


Two of the lovely barmaids who looked after us so well. Too well! On the left, Amy.
On the right Jill. And in the centre, young 'Brit the Brat'.

As Longreach possesses a Power House Museum and a Doll Museum, Pam and I separated to check them out. Doubtless Pam will touch on the Doll Museum in her journal. I found the Power House Museum very interesting with - among many other exhibits - huge diesel engines manufactured by both Mirlees and Crossley. Both factories were within ten miles of where I grew up in England. In fact, on leaving school I had applied, unsuccessfully, to Mirlees for an apprenticeship.

Large engines are often seen in such museums. What was different about this exhibition was that inspection plates on the side of the crankcases had been replaced with perspex windows and internal lighting had been installed so the huge workings could be viewed. There were also many components on display - spares not needed when the engines were retired. Not everyone's cup of tea, I suppose.
The Qantas Founders' Outback Museum


The plaque pictured on the right hangs in the entrance to the Qantas Museum at Longreach. The airline originated in this part of the world and there is some competition between Longreach and nearby Winton to claim Qantas as their own and thus win the associated tourist dollars. It appears that Longreach gained an unbeatable lead when a retired Boeing 747-238B 'Jumbo' was donated to the museum.

VH-EBQ, City of Bunbury, is fully equipped and is said to be in flying condition. We joined a tour of the aircraft which was all extremely interesting, not the least being the story of its arrival.

The minimum requirements for landing this aircraft demand a runway much longer and much wider than the one available at Longreach Airport. To enable 'Bravo Quebec' to stop in the available distance, the aircraft was stripped of all unnecessary weight - even to lowering the pressure of the nitrogen-inflated tyres. She carried just enough fuel to make two attempts to land and then divert to Rockhampton. The runway is only thirty metres wide so the aircraft's two outboard engines would overhang the gravel on either side of the bitumen runway creating a risk of grit being ingested.


Left: Boeing 747 Jumbo.                       Right: Douglas DC-3 Dakota

It was therefore necessary to cut those engines on approach and land using the inboard engines only, keeping the aircraft precisely on the runway's centreline.


On that day, Bravo Quebec was flown by Captain Michael Fitzgerald, accompanied by a flight engineer, two other Qantas captains and one retired captain. The maximum take-off weight of this Jumbo is 378 tonnes. As it approached Longreach on 16th November 2002 it had been lightened to 186 tonnes! Practically the whole population turned out to watch the arrival, not to mention the media and the emergency services. A car, placed adjacent to the runway, was used as a marker for Captain Fitzgerald - the 747 must touch down before that car if it was to stop safely.

As it transpired, two approaches were not required; Bravo Quebec landed at the first attempt and pulled up easily. Unable to turn around on the narrow runway, the engines were shut down and she was turned with the aid of a towing tractor. The inboard engines were then re-started so she could taxi to the apron in a dignified manner, under her own power. Even then the problems were not over. The airport apron was not designed to support a 747, however much lightened, so she had to be pushed onto the waiting concrete pads within hours, before she started to sink.

Our guide told us that that 'Bravo Quebec' was regularly maintained by Qantas and could be readied for flight in three hours - provided the runway had been lengthened. The council said they could do that in eighteen hours. (Have you ever known a council do anything in 18 hours?) The 747's airframe life has not expired though it has flown 82 million kilometres since Qantas took delivery in 1979. Strips along the sides of the runway would have to be sealed in order to use the outboard engines for a take-off. I think we can safely assume 'Bravo Quebec' will never fly again.

Also on the tarmac outside the museum was a very sad Douglas DC-3 Dakota, that wonderful old workhorse of the post-war years. VH-BPL was once flown by Qantas before she was sold and later bought back. She was desperately in need of some TLC and was totally overshadowed by the 747. Nobody else showed any interest in her. How technology has advanced in forty years - I noticed that the Dakota's control surfaces (ailerons and elevators) were fabric-covered aluminium frames. The rudder looked like a recent replacement and its trim tab was missing. However, the good news is that there are plans to restore her and open her to the public.

Out of curiosity I paced out the length of each aircraft. The 747 was almost exactly four times the length of the DC-3. Below are two picture comparisons:-


Left: The Dakota's left main undercarriage - one single, small wheel.
Right: A pair of 747 left main undercarriages - eight giant wheels.

Underneath view of DC-3 and 747

Left: Standing beneath the nose of the Dakota looking towards the tail wheel.
Right: A similar view below the 747.


The Museum's website can be visited at www.qfom.com.au.

The museum is very hi-tech using interactive screens to allow visitors to view different aspects of life in Longreach at the time of Qantas's conception (1920) and early years. Naturally there is much made of the airline's founders, Paul McGinness (occasionally seen spelt with a 'u') and Hudson Fysh. A full scale Avro 504K replica forms the centrepiece of the exhibition, slowly rotating on a turntable. There is also a Model T Ford.

The complex includes a theatrette, the McGinness Restaurant and the original Qantas hangar. Overhead is a continuous rail from which models of the early Qantas aircraft are suspended, such as the DH 86, circa 1934, which is shown here. They slowly circle above the museum and restaurant. This view is from the McGinness Restaurant.

At the time that we were in Longreach, Qantas celebrated its 85th Anniversary and, of course, the Founder's Outback Museum made much of it. We also attended - there was a free breakfast! - and it was quite fun. The team from the Triple M morning show in Brisbane did their broadcast from the the McGinness Restaurant while we ate bacon, eggs and sausage. The museum and the 747 were thrown open to all so we had another walk around. I tried to get more information on the DC-3 but was unable to. However, I heard a good story from the museum manager . . .

A Dakota's wings are bolted on to the outer edge of the engine mountings. Just a whole string of bolts all around the circumference - no spar or anything. One day, for whatever reason, a wing had been removed and replaced on a Dakota that was used to fly to New Guinea from Townsville. On arrival they discovered that, though all the bolts had been replaced, they had not been tightened up and many had vibrated loose on the flight. Oops!
The Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame

Right across the highway from the Qantas Museum we found the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame. We had often heard of this magnificent memorial to the early pioneers - men and women - who opened up outback Australia. But, of course, the story began with the Aborigines thousands of years before European settlement and this museum reflects their lives and involvement too. It is a place not to be missed and we found that a whole day was needed to do it justice.

The Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre at Longreach.

The museum contains five separate exhibitions and many thousands of artifacts, so to describe it adequately here is beyond the scope of this site. We found it totally enthralling and frequently had our eyes opened to the hardships the early pioneers had suffered. As always, the men gained the fame - or notoriety - but the women's role was a vital one too. I'm not sure how much is contained in the Hall of Fame's own website but if you wish to visit:

Click on www.stockmanshalloffame.com.au

In Longreach the morning papers arrive in the afternoon. In Winton, the dentist comes to town once every six weeks - as I discovered when I broke a tooth. If Longreach is way out beyond the black stump, Winton is 180 kilometres further. Winton is 'famous' on four counts:-
  1. Some dinosaurs wandered past there many millions of years ago and inadvertently left some footprints.
  2. In 1895, Andrew Barton Paterson - better known as Banjo - wrote the unofficial Australian anthem, Waltzing Matilda, near the town.
  3. Qantas was born there.
  4. In WWII, a certain Lyndon Baines Johnson was on board an American Flying Fortress bomber which had become lost. With darkness approaching and fuel running low, the pilot landed near a farm to find out where he was. The Flying Fortress took off next morning and that would have been the end of the matter if that passenger, Lyndon Baines Johnson, had not gone on to become the 36th President of the United States.

Banjo Paterson

The good townsfolk saw their opportunity and grasped it with both hands. The dinosaurs footprints were protected by a large shed and people could pay to look at them. A theory was put forward to account for the fact that little footprints had almost obliterated some much larger ones. The big dinosaur must have attacked the little ones which panicked and fled across the big one's tracks. A Winton shop is partitioned off and a huge model dinosaur is the centrepiece of a prehistoric display - you can pay to see it.

Until you actually arrive in Winton, the pertinent fact that the footprints are located 100 kilometres away from the town - with no sealed road leading to them - appears to be conveniently overlooked.

A statue of Banjo Paterson (right) stands outside the large Waltzing Matilda Centre which incorporates a café, a hi-tech 'Legend Room', a theatrette, an old steam railway engine, a bit of Qantas history and a lot of old artifacts. Qantas receives a few mentions in the town, but in reality, Longreach has that angle all sown up. However, you can visit the place where Lyndon B Johnson's Flying Fortress landed. If you really want to. Initially we'd been going to take the caravan to Winton but then decided we'd leave it at Longreach and drive out, staying in a motel. When we arrived we discovered that, apart from all the tourist hype, Winton is just a small rural town miles from anywhere. It does feature some novel ideas though, such as the way the street wheelie bins are enclosed, Arno's wall in which all the junk in creation is encased, and some clever Waltzing Matilda sculptures on the street's central reserve.


Left: One of the wheelie bin holders following the dinosaur theme.

Centre: A section of Arno's wall. Is it A modern wonder of art and architecture. The placard says so.

Right: One of several Waltzing Matilda sculptures, this one depicting the arrival of the squatter with the troopers. The verse is inscribed on the top near the handcuffs. They were very original and very well done.

The temperature was 40° Centigrade when we were in Winton. We decided a three hour round trip on dirt roads to see some footprints was something we could live without. Likewise, Lyndon Johnson's landing site. So, having seen all the recommended features within the town, we hopped straight back into the car, turned the air conditioner up full, and left Winton to the big storm that was approaching from the north.
Back in Longreach . . .

. . . Mrs Bucket and I were making new friends in the Starlight's Tavern.

Ringer and Black Pete

Left: 'Ringer' and Pam. Right: Doug, 'Black Pete' and white Pete.
(Pam, remind me not to stand with the 'hand on hip' in future.)

Starlight's Tavern was full of characters and none less so than Ringer - or should that be Cowboy? - he seemed to answer to both names. He claimed to be seventy years old, but he didn't act it! His stories and jokes would fill a book though no publisher would touch it. And I'm not too sure I believed them all.

Doug is the father of Jill - see second picture down on this page. Black Pete was another character and a really nice bloke. Actually, everyone in that tavern was nice and the more beer you drank, the nicer they got. Funny that. Anyway, back to Black Pete - that's what everyone called him - who had walked over to the juke box.

Has he always been called 'Black Pete'? I asked Jill.

How long have you been 'Black Pete'? Jill called to him. Well, that was the question she asked. What Pete heard was . . .

How long have you been black, Pete?

Since I was born, of course he growled without turning from the juke box.
And So To Charleville

We left Longreach early one Sunday morning for the 530 kilometre haul to Charleville. As we were preparing for departure the three huge brolgas, in tight formation, came gliding over on final approach, turned into wind, and touched down. What a spectacular sight! Two minutes later they strutted up to our caravan, the youngster too bold for his own good, the father far more cautious and the mother torn between staying close to her chick and her natural wariness. We just had to feed them after they'd come specially to say goodbye. The youngster kept snatching the bread out of my hand. Mother would cautiously take it from me if I slowly held it out to her. Father backed away if I tried to approach him but he was a whiz at taking it out of the air when I threw it up for him.

The run to Charleville was uneventful except for a large mob of cattle being herded ahead of us down National Highway A2. The cattle filled the road and both verges for about 100 metres. They were urged on by two drovers on horseback. One stirred up the stragglers while the other cleared a path through the mob with his whip as we crawled along behind his horse, cows to the left of us, cows to the right, until we emerged to find clear road ahead.

As we set up camp in Charleville we found mementos of those cows all over the front of the caravan. I wondered what the underneath of the car and 'van looked like but didn't check. What the eye doesn't see . . .

Footnote: This re-working of Page 18 was completed on 21 March 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.

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