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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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:-
- Some dinosaurs
wandered past there many millions of years ago and inadvertently left
- In 1895, Andrew Barton Paterson - better known as Banjo
- wrote the unofficial Australian anthem, Waltzing Matilda, near the town.
- Qantas was born there.
- 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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.