The town of Longreach is on the Tropic of Capricorn, in Outback Queensland, with a population of about 3,500 people. There are two significant museums here that we wanted to see – the Qantas Founders Museum and the Stockman’s Hall of Fame. We arrived here yesterday after a two hour flight from Melbourne to Brisbane and then another two hour flight out to Longreach.
On our arrival, we were immediately struck by how flat this area is. There is currently a lot of water lying around after some recent heavy rain. This area has had an extensive drought and just last year some community minded people made history when they delivered 150 semi-trailer loads of hay to graziers in the town of Ilfracombe, just down the road. They created the longest truck convoy in Australia’s history. The drought seems to have broken with Longreach receiving over 59 mm (two inches) of rain in June and another 60 mm so far in July. The countryside is very green but I suspect that the density of feed for stock is still quite low.
We will have to be careful not to leave the main road as the shoulders are saturated and very boggy. We can see very deep wheel ruts everywhere where trucks and flour-wheel drives have driven across the saturated ground. There were many road trains parked just out of town yesterday because the road to Winton and Mt Isa was closed by a flooded creek. They began to move off last night and dozens of long road trains then rumbled through the town heading east around dinner time after the police had opened the road. There are still dozens of people camped in the streets around town in caravans and motor homes as they wait for the road to be opened to vehicles other than trucks.
I spent a little while wandering around Longreach’s main street after dinner last night taking some night photos. There are some quite historic buildings in town – among them, the original Qantas hanger, the railway station and the old power house building.
We spent all morning today at the Qantas Founders Museum near the airport. Qantas started its life here as Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Services. There are some interesting historical displays in its modern museum building and outside there is a Catalina, DC3, Boeing 707 and a Boeing 747-200 that somehow they were able to fly into this little regional airstrip. They will never be able to fly it out again! I did the tour that included a look over the planes and that included a walk on the wing of the 747. That also got me into areas such as the hold, the avionics bay and the chance to sit in the captain’s seat in the cockpit.
The Boeing 707 was the first jet aircraft that Qantas owned and the first jet aircraft ever to be registered in Australia. I couldn’t help but reflect on my first ever plane trip which was in a chartered Qantas 707 that took me to Vietnam when I was in the army. It wasn’t as luxurious as this one however, which had been fitted out as a private luxury jet at one stage of its life.
This afternoon, we visited the Stockman’s Hall of Fame that was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1998. It has some very interesting displays on the life of pastoralists and stockmen and their contribution to the early settlement and opening up of land throughout the country. At the turn of the 20th Century, Australia figuratively rode on the sheep’s back. Agriculture was the major employer and the major source of export income by far. One property near here ran over 440,000 sheep in its heyday. The museum has a fine section devoted to the work of the Flying Doctor because that service started by the Rev Flynn out of Alice Springs has played such an important role in providing medical services in the outback.
This local area is a very different environment to that which we saw on our recent visit to Alaska. While it is also very remote, by contrast it is dry, flat and very hot (especially in summer). Today, the temperature was about 28C and while we were walking around in short sleeved shirts, the locals were out in warm vests and wearing beanies.
Tomorrow, we plan to explore the road to Blackall and some of its historic towns.