2 August: Going to Longreach
Today was an eventful, exhilarating and emotional day!! It started early, with the occupants of our neighbouring tent packing up, laughing and talking a little after 4am. We did stay in our cocoon until around 630am but by 7am we were on the road. As it was just after dawn, there were lots of animals on or near the road. A couple of cows meandered in front of us, and a large skippy took off across the road just as we were approaching – although it made the heart beat a little faster, it was really exciting to see. An emu with a whole bunch of chicks was standing just next to the road – and she disappeared as we went by, leaving said babies to look after themselves. Did you know that a group of emus is the same as a group of kangaroos – a mob?
Purely coincidentally, we had Geoff Bullock’s “Great Southland” playing as we drove along https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDJAuTCe_uY. As he sang about red dust plains, we were seeing them pass by the car windows. Glenda, who is not usually emotional, was driving and had to brush away the tears to make sure she could see where we were going. Something we won’t forget in a hurry!
We broke the trip in Emerald for our first coffee in 2 days and to buy some rolls for lunch. We were both struck by the town, just very pleasant. We also stopped briefly at Barcaldine to take photo of its famous “Tree of Knowledge”. The only other little town that really stood out was Ilfracombe – there were hundreds of pieces of machinery of all shapes, sizes, colours and eras lined up along the road and all beautifully maintained.
The vastness of the plains was more evident today than any previous stretch. And the number of dead kangaroos surpassed anything that we’ve ever seen before. It was so sad to see one at least every 100m and one particular stretch had more than double that.
In places, the road was lined with hundreds of termite mounds. In order to alleviate the boredom along the long, straight stretches of road, people had dressed some of them in everything from ballet tutus to footie jerseys and hats. The Covid bear (see https://mitchell.news/2020/06/26/locked-down-in-new-farm/) had even made his mark a little under 100km from Longreach. Not sure how anyone got him up that tree!
The first thing we spotted as we entered Longreach was the tail of the Qantas 747 at the Qantas Founders Museum. Only to find that we can see said tail from the door of our room.
The stable we’re staying in is a lot roomier and more comfortable that the one Jesus was born in. And fortunately, there are no longer any animals sharing it with us. We’re going to enjoy staying here for the next 4 nights.
3 August: Transport in the outback
Being a long way from anywhere, getting goods in and out of the area is a challenge. It makes sense that Longreach played a key role in the development of aviation in Australia. Other than planes, trains (that run on railway lines) and road trains (very long road vehicles up to 53m) are the other main means of transport. Although these days, big 4WDs and camper vans are plentiful too!
We had a very early start as we’d booked on to a tour at the Qantas Founders Museum, starting at 8am. Fortunately our accommodation was just across the road – something we didn’t realise when we’d booked – so it didn’t take long to get there. Very soon, we’d joined Tom, museum curator and guide extraordinaire for our journey on and around the planes in the airpark. Being an ex ABC journalist, Tom’s quick wit and communication style added to his extensive knowledge off planes to make it extremely interesting – a good thing given we would be with him for almost 4 hours. Helen and Norm were the other couple on the tour so it was a nice intimate group.
Fortunately we’d chosen to wear our down jackets as the wind was howling from the NE and was pretty cool at times, even though the air temperature was up to the high 20s later in the day. After a viewing of the DC3 or Dakota – the name depends on which country you’re from – we moved on to the big one ie. the Boeing 747. It was fascinating to see all the instruments under the belly and get an appreciation for the size of the engines and wheels. We even got to stand in the engine! It was good to get out of the wind and hop on board. It was a stark reminder of how basic seats used to be on planes, with the business class seats looking similar to what economy are now – and certainly no individual entertainment. It even still has ashtrays in teh seats! The parts of the main cabin not usually visible to passengers – between the outside of the plane and what we normally see – also housed the black box, which is actually two orange boxes. The little bunk beds for the captain and co-pilot burst the bubble of the glamorous life of flight crew. We even had a chance to “fly” the plane, but the highlight was taking a walk on the enormous wing of the aircraft.
From the 747, we moved on to the Constellation or Connie for short. The Connie had a good display of the various flights completed in the early years, including to South Africa and global tours. The Connies were only used for about 9 years before being replaced by the 707, making air travel a lot more accessible to the masses as they were bigger and had more economy class seats.
Over the years, the 707 that we saw has been owned and / or chartered by a number of wealthy people e.g. the Jackson family and Saudi sheiks, so even contained a full size bed, bathroom with a bidet and all the fittings – including seat belt buckles – were gold. It had plenty of year of mistreatment along the way and has been lovingly restored by the volunteers at the museum. Our final bit of excitement for the morning was another wing walk.
At the end of the tour, it was sad to say farewell to our new friends, but we were ready for lunch at the museum café before taking a walk around the museum.
Outside the building, we marvelled at a Catalina and visited a display in the heritage listed hangar.
At the end of the day, we crossed the road from our hotel again to watch the sunset and were rewarded with sightings of the other significant modes of transport – the train and a road train.