Saturday, 3 July 2010

Next Chapter - Jellybeans in the Jungle.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Charlie's Trousers

Today we’re in Charters Towers or as my bride has always called it, “Charlie’s Trousers”. That was what her colleagues called it in 1972, when she started her teaching career here.

It’s been called other things. One title is “The World”. In its heyday, it was just that. Everything in the world was here. Back in the 1890s, it had its own brewery, 92 pubs, countless brothels, 29 crushing mills, its own stock exchange and late night shopping – on Saturday night - (100 years before anywhere else in the country).

The boom times lasted whilst the gold did, from about 1872 until 1911.

It’s a thriving centre now, but nothing like it was back then. The mining going on now is from the pockets of parents who send their kids to the many private boarding schools in town.

The remnants of this prosperity exist in the many very solid buildings in town, and in the extravagant way in which they’re fitted out.

There’s the Bank of Commerce.

And many old pub buildings put to a different use.

There’s Wherry House (now housing a real estate business).

And some interesting old shop displays.

The detail on some of these old shops is amazing.

And interiors such as these are pretty rare in the 21st century.
This place reeks of history, and is well worth a visit.
It was, in its heyday, the second largest city in the state after Brisbane.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Nostalgia is a pretty harmless trip, but it can involve withdrawal symptoms.

I’m suffering them now.

Longreach is significant for me for two reasons. One is that I had a job based in Mt Isa in the mid nineties that involved spending a lot of time in Longreach. I got to see the inside of every pub in the main street. This is not because I was a big drinker.

Back then there was a school support centre based in the town and run by a very astute district manager who well understood the importance of keeping the local community on side.

As a consequence, when he wanted to have a beer with the regional management team, of which I was a member, he always insisted that we limit ourselves to one round each per pub to share the patronage around. This meant that a decent session meant moving from one pub to another until it was over. Given that the five plus pubs in the main street are within easy walking distance of each other, we simply oozed from pub to pub.

It must have worked, because he went on to become a Director General, and is fondly remembered to this day in town. The pubs haven’t changed much in fifteen years. You can still get a reasonable lunch for less than $10. My chicken and salad cost me $7.50. Nothing special, but good value. There are always chips.

The other piece of nostalgia lying in wait in Longreach is the Boeing 707 on display.

I did some research last week using a website created by Qantas crew who worked on the Sydney-Saigon-Sydney run during the Vietnam War. I discovered the full history of the flight I came home on (10th December 1970). If I had known back then what was happening on the flight deck, I would have been a very nervous digger indeed – but I’ll reserve that story for another post.

The aircraft on display looks the same but is actually quite different from the one I came home on. It’s shorter, older (the very first 707 exported) and with a completely different fitout from the one I flew on.

It had been configured as a VIP aircraft after Qantas and various other operators had finished with it, and was leased to a range of pop stars (including Madonna and Michael Jackson) before it was bought by a Saudi sheik who used it for five years before he upgraded to a 747.

When it was bought by the museum it was fitted out very lavishly (chandeliers – would you believe). It’s still pretty lavish, with walnut and leather, bedroom and bidet, but no chandeliers. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms, because instead of the rows (3 + 3) of passenger seats that I remembered on RTA, I was confronted with Saudi style decadence. It’s not the same at all. You can still smell whatever it was they smoked in those loofah things. It’s permeated the woodwork.

You can take photos inside the 747 on display, which was flown in to Longreach by a pilot who had his name drawn from a hat. Apparently more that 150 serving Qantas aircrew volunteered to deliver it. This guy crashed it many times on the simulator (Longreach strip is strictly speaking too short for 747s), but he did a good job on the day.

It’s an old plane, and has been well fettled -
Back then you could smoke, but not in the Galley - 
And they had to be reminded to stow all the wiggly jiggly bits - 

It’s big, and there’s plenty of shade under the wing -

The coffee dispensers are still there. They smell faintly of a bad airline brew.
There is also a characteristic Boeing smell – different from the Airbus. You could blindfold me, and I’d get it right every time.


Today we continued North-West, along with at least three quarters of the population of Victoria, all driving caravans. I hope the last people leaving down there remember to turn off the lights.

In Tambo, there’s a monument to Barry. He saved people from influenza, but died of it himself. Obviously, they thought a great deal of him. It’s a well-built quality monument .
Actually, his name was Reg.
The further north we travelled, the warmer it became. The overcast cleared, and the sky started to brighten up and look interesting.
It’s almost possible out here to see the curvature of the earth.
Somebody’s been moving dongas along this road. That’s why the guide posts are bent.

We spent some time in Barcaldine, home of the Australian Labor Party. Back before the turn of the century, there was an almighty stoush between the squatters and the shearers out here. It got pretty willing, with armed police trying to keep over 700 shearers on the straight and narrow after they burnt down some sheds and marched by torchlight in Barcaldine.

In the end, about a dozen of them were locked away for a few years on conspiracy charges, but the result was the creation of the Australian Labor Party.
Back then, at the height of the conflict, the shearers used to meet under a gum tree in front of the railway station. It began to be called the “Tree of Knowledge” and remained a symbol of this time for over 100 years, until someone poisoned it in the early 2000s.

The tree was cloned and preserved, and encased in a structure opened in 2009.
You can sit in the Artesian Hotel across the road, and ponder the history over a counter lunch. We did.
Pubs in Barcaldine have had a hard time down the years. Almost all were burnt down.

Tomorrow is Longreach.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Finding Somewhere Warm

We’re heading North-West.

It’s the time of the year when we make this escape. Toowoomba is a pretty good place to live much of the time, but during July and August , there are better places to be.

The morning frost as we left confirmed it.

There was an eerie morning mist near Oakey.

And the outside temp was -2. The thingy warning of ice on the road came on – first time I’ve seen that in this car.

We’re heading for Longreach (where I worked in Ed Admin – disabilities and aboriginal programmes) back in the early nineties. It was a great time, and I haven’t been back since. Besides, it’s forecast 24 max in Longreach today.

West of Miles on the Warrego, there’s a monument to the families of railway fettlers who died during the building of the line back in the 1870s. They bred them tough back then – if you got sick, you died, so the survivors were strong.

There’s a stone and a sign – put up by the Queensland Women’s Historical Association. I’d driven past it on scores of occasions on work trips. Now I know the story.

That’s our little beastie in the background. This is the first time I’ve done a big trip in a small car since I owned a series of Renault 12s in the seventies. So far, it’s performing well. It’s a up-spec version with cruise control, something I doubt I could do without these days.

Mitchell has two great bakeries, and interesting decorated footpaths -

So it’s Charleville tonight with lots of open road ahead.

And a western sky at sunset – something I’ve missed since moving east.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...