17 Nov On the Outer Barcoo
“On the Outer Barcoo, where the churches are few
And the men of Religion are scanty
On a road never crossed, ‘cept by folk that are lost
One Michael Magee had a shanty”
So, our main destination for my second trip to QLD, plenty of roads that never seemed crossed, but due to Brad’s superior navigating skills (and Mrs Garmin) we always ended up where we meant to – eventually.
Our wide brown land is such one of contrasts, with our first leg starting in Nyngan, where friends have the most amazing crop, already waist high and with such promise. It was such a joy to see their hard work paying off. Our next stop was Bourke, where Brad attended a property auction, and where I checked into the local stock and station agent’s office to do some book keeping. We had clients hoping to get a foot in the door on the property for sale, and with spirited bidding and the hammer falling… they missed out. On the positive side, it shows that there is still much confidence in the area (even in the midst of drought) and the sale has no doubt boosted valuations in the area.
From Bourke we endured a hot and dusty six hour drive to Bonus Downs, the time of arrival underestimated with the last three hours on dirt roads riddled with roos and rocks. By the time we arrived the party had already started – without us! We soon caught up, and met some interesting folk in the lovely old homestead that has seen some spectacular renovation over the past decade or so. Bonus Downs has joined the thriving and growing band of stations that have opened their doors to tourism, with a six room converted jackaroo’s quarters offering rustic but very comfortable accommodation, complete with a unique entertaining area. Caravaners are also welcome, with amenities block and power.
Bonus Downs owes its return to splendour, not only by the hard work of the current owners, but also a wonderful organisation “Outback Helpers”. This site is run by couples from WA and SA, and aims to join up property owners needing a helping hand, with handy retired folk looking for an outback experience. It is such a fantastic idea and well utilised by many stations who are lacking the time, expertise or funds to complete maintenance and repairs, or just need help with the day to day running of the station. Work is often voluntary, with obviously board and perhaps fuel supplied by the station. We came across other station owners who will utilise the service when they need to go away for a few days.
We were woken in the morning by some juvenile growling and tussling on the verandah, which on inspection proved to be three young kelpies intent on eating our boots. After disengaging said pups we headed off to our next appointment, which predictably, seemed even more in the middle of nowhere. “Nowhere” is SUCH an enormous place! Young Lucy kept me entertained with her tales of derring-do on her poor maligned pony – she wasn’t slow to give the poor fellow a slap on the rump and an admonishment on some imaginary misdemeanour. This family lives for their weekend’s away camp drafting, such a fantastic social activity that gets the bush people together.
Another long afternoon drive ensued to Tambo. We were planning on a quick social call then on to Blackhall, but as the boys settled in with beers, and the road (again) was lined with roos, I quickly realised that Blackhall wasn’t going to happen that night. Accordingly we took advantage of that wonderful country hospitality with yet more wonderful stories of bush boys and city girls and the funny stories of courtship.
What a long, heartbreaking road it is for these country people. Stories of drought, pulling starving stock from boggy dams, enduring the endless cycle of feeding, carting water, putting animals down that have no hope of surviving, working incredibly long hours in heat that most of us wouldn’t step outside the door in, let alone do hard physical work. Finding the funds to keep the farm going, plus knowing that with the dams dried up, now is the time to desilt – and finding the funds for that as well. Laying pipe to water the outlying paddocks, and dealing with the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion of each member of the family. No wonder these people are so resilient.
Our stop next day (and I am sorry, but by now I have NO idea where we are) was in the spinifex country where we met a lovely and enthusiastic couple looking to expand. He is a mountain bike rider (and the thought of training in that sandy country scared me) – his other passion, windsurfing, is a little more difficult to practice – it’s a long way to the sea! A long drive that afternoon brought us into Blackall, a Saturday afternoon, all the shops shut up, and no lunch in the offing. The pub there is the classic Australian, huge verandahs and a lovely beer garden shaded by bougainvillea. The carpark out the back was full of grey nomads, but with temps already hitting the low 30’s (in August) that season was coming to a close with the caravans heading south for cooler pastures.
The next day saw us at Longreach, but still down some very long roads. The country is really suffering up there, with even the roos looking painfully thin. The place we visited were feeding their stock on faba beans which were kept in the machinery shed and fenced in with portable panels. The roos are so desperate they were trying to dig their way through the concrete to get to the beans. Our generous friends at Nyngan had offered three road trains of free straw if we came across any one in dire need, and this seemed to be a good place to start. But of course “Free” is never completely free, with freight a big cost.
We took the “longer” road back to Blackhall, as Brad wanted to check out an iconic station in the area. A welcome Sunday afternoon beer in the green oasis of Isisford, with classic Elvis tracks booming out from the pub’s jukebox, seemed out of keeping with the surrounding brown land. Another night in Blackhall, and then on to Cunnamulla with clients whose hospitality we seem to take advantage of more times than seems fair! Brad had to present a webinar, and with the on farm internet lacking, a last minute dash back to town was made with just enough time to get on line.
With news of a tornado hitting Dubbo (what a crazy country we live in) we were keen to get home and find our place intact. It was a long week on the road but again, such a wonderful experience meeting our incredible clients who live such different lives.