Tim Fischer Longreach QLD
The Australian outback is variously described as being remote, remorseless and moving in its immensity. And somewhere in the middle of all this magnitude lies Longreach – a small town with a big heart 700km west of Rockhampton. Once a gutsy outback outpost and now a big service hub on the heavily trodden tourism trail, Longreach has had its highlights and lowlights over the years and offers an interesting historic glint to the visitor. For Grey Nomads it’s a must visit, be they north-bound in autumn or south-bound in spring as they make for the warmer climate in winter months.
Longreach has many claims to fame. It boasts the ever expanding and renewing Stockman’s Hall of Fame, a monument to the rich heritage of the area and important pioneers of the past, as well as the Qantas Founders Outback Museum, set within the original Qantas hangar at Longreach Airport.
Once the formative headquarters of the world famous aerial service, there now sits, remarkably, a magnificent Boeing 747-200 jumbo jet, donated to the community thanks to the quiet connivance of one Joan Maloney.
The diminutive former mayor persuaded the leaders of Qantas to give the community one of its original jumbos, then extended the runway just long enough for it to land – but not so long that it could ever take off again and be brought back into service by Qantas. And so there now resides the City of Bunbury jumbo, adding to the Longreach aviation collection, the only spot in the world where full tours of that type of jet are offered.
Longreach truly came alive with the arrival of the direct railway line from Rockhampton in 1892, and today the stopover is livened by the beautiful (and nicely air-conditioned) Spirit of the Outback. I recommend you jump aboard – it’s an experience not to be missed. The mighty Thompson River also passes right through Longreach and locals enjoy countless cruises along the pleasant waterway. And herein lies an interesting little wrinkle: it’s been said it’s the only place in the world where the confluence of two rivers forms a creek. The Barcoo and Thompson collide to become historic Cooper Creek, with all waterways in the region merging and flowing southwest to form part of the Lake Eyre basin, and with the Dig Tree of Burke and Wills fame on the right bank downstream near the Queensland/SA border on the property Nappa Merrie. The great cattleman Sir Sidney Kidman always took the view that if by the Ides of March each year the Georgina, Diamantina, Thompson and Barcoo Rivers were flowing in western Queensland, then a great season would ensue across his network of properties.
There’s ample activity, too, just beyond the reach of Longreach: the settlement of Stonehenge, just southwest of the Shire, is about as different to Southern England’s Stonehenge as you can get – and you’ll not find a henge in sight. Its name, however, is somewhat fitting and comes from the stone-mound remains of a cattle drivers’ building long since passed into ruin. Stonehenge also houses an important Department of Defence transceiver that – bizarrely for a town some 800km inland – guards the coastline, as part of this country’s over-the-horizon radar defence initiative.
Further afield, the magnificent Matilda Centre at Winton – named, indeed, for the famous Waltz – is another important stopover with its Banjo Patterson statue and unmistakably Australian windmill. Ensure a side trip also to the mysterious country around Boulia, west of Longreach, where the eerie “Min Min” lights are to be encountered but never, ever captured. These playful, daring balls of light – thought now to be hovering reflections from tens, even hundreds of kilometres away – appear to have a life of their own, bobbing curiously about.
It’s a truly wonderful part of the country. Take in the local races or a rodeo or two, whistle on a gum leaf while lazing under a riverbank tree, soak up the local pub scene – but don’t miss the train out, because it’s a long wait until the next Spirit of the Outback.
Never mind, though: the joy is you’ll encounter plenty to boost your spirits in and around Longreach. I heartily recommend a visit in this, the Year of the Outback.
Where: Almost in the exact centre of Queensland, 676km west of Rockhampton, 1184km northwest of Brisbane, at the intersection of the great Landsborough and Capricorn Highways.
Longreach Information Centre
Phone: (07) 4658 3555
Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame
Phone: (07) 4658 2166
Qantas Founders Outback Museum
Phone: (07) 4658 3737
Spirit of the Outback
Phone: (08) 8213 4592