Today, we drove 515 kilometres from Longreach to Charleville. It was a longer day than we would have liked , but there really wasn’t anywhere else to stop.This route took us through a number of historic towns that are imprtant in Australia’s history.
Not far from Longreach, we came to to the town of Ilfracombe. It is a tiny town on the vast flat plains of western Queensland with a single hotel, a cafe, a few houses and a remarkable “Great Machinery Mile” museum which stretches the length of the town. It is hard to imagine that there was a heyday, back in the 1890s, when the town had three hotels each with its own dance hall, a soft drink maker, a coach builder, two general stores, a billiard saloon, a dressmaker, three commission agents, a couple of butchers, a baker and a saddler.
It was originally known as Wellshot after the huge property which dominated the area. When the railway arrived in 1891 it was decided to rename the settlement to Ilfracombe, after the town in Devon, England. We have actually stayed at Ifracombe in Devon and I remember that the B&B in which we stayed had a sign in the bathroom saying that guests were allowed to use the bathroom if staying for more than three days!
The mile-long machinery museum along the higway into town is full of antique machinery.
The next town on our drive played a major part in Australia’s history and also a major contribtion to Australian culture. Barcaldine was the town in which Australia’s trade union movement and the Labor Party was founded. It sits right on the Tropic of Capricorn. It was here in 1891 that shearers, confronted with lower pay, went on strike, joined together in a camp outside the town and held meeting under “The Tree of Knowledge” – all events which played an important role in the formation of the Australian Labor Party. The strike had a disastrous impact on the economy as in those days, wool was a major proportion of tthe Australian economy.
In October 2006 the Heritage-listed ‘Tree of Knowledge”, a ten metre tall ghost gum was poisoned by someone with Roundup. It had been a meeting place for shearers during the strike of 1891 and was deemed to be of such importance to Australian industrial and labour history that an architect-designed Tree of Knowledge memorial was constructed using the original site and using the dead trunk of the original tree. It was opened in May 2009. The sculpture, standing outside the town’s railway station, features a striking 18 metre high cube in which 4000 suspended timbers of varying length form the shape of the tree canopy. It now includes interpretative panels which tell the story of the Shearer’s Strike and the men who led it.
While the labour movement may have begun in Barcaldine. the number of pubs in the main street suggests that the Temperance Movement’s origins were somwhere else. We spent a few minutes driving around the streets of the town and it struck us as being a very neat and well cared for town.
About halfway between Barcaldine and Charleville, we came to the town of Blackall. This town has been, and is still the centre of a huge sheep industry. It celebrates its connections with the wool and sheep industry with a modest “Big Ram”, a sculpture of Jackie Howe (the greatest shearer of them all), an historic wool scour. It’s an attractive country town with palm trees down the centre of the main street, lots of veranda-ed shops and old-style pubs,
There are a number of places around Australia which insist that they are the true location of the black stump. The case for Blackall is explained in great detail on the sign which reads: “This historic site permanently marks the original Astro station established in 1887 by the Surveyor-General for the purpose of survey, based on the principal meridional circuit traversed around the town of Blackall. The circuit around Blackall was 27 miles square and contained an area of 729 square miles. The surveyors placed their theodolites on the stump for latitude and longitude observations.
The Blackall Wool Scour was built in 1908 and operated continuously until 1978. It is the last remaining steam operated wool washing plant. Historically the process of wool scouring, which had once been done by hand, involved putting the greasy wool through a special scouring solution, drying the cleaned wool, then pressing it into bales. When the wool scour was built it was considered a miracle of modern technology.
This was the first steam driven wool scour in Australia. It used 100,000 gallons of water each day with the water coming from the artesian bore outside. It is the first artesian bore that I have seen and the water temperature was as hot the water that comes out of the hot tap at home.
We drove almost 400 kilometres today through flat grassland. The road was good except for bumps and dips when it crossed floodways and uneven ground. I read somewhere that the sign of a good Panna Cotta dessert was that it should wobble like a woman’s breasts. In many places, the road had the same effect.
Just north of Charleville, the vegetation tuned into lighlty tree’d scrub. Amongst this loosley forested area were a number of ‘Bottle Trees’. Native to the stretch of Australia between northern New South Wales and the inland part of Queensland, the Queensland Bottle Tree is semi-deciduous. This tree is extremely drought tolerant but ideally likes plenty of water which it stores between the inner bark and the trunk. This gives it its unique shape and the reason for its common name of the “Bottle Tree”. Aboriginal people carved holes into the soft bark to create reservoir like structures; consumed the seeds, roots, stems and bark; and the fibres were used to make twine, rope and nets. The soft, edible pulp is considered to be energy rich but protein poor.
Today was a long day of driving with the occasional stop to look around the places that we passed. We left Longreach at 8.00 am and didn’t arrive ionto Charleville until 5.00 pm. We will have a look around the town tomorrow before we leave for Bourke in NSW.