Big Red Bash #4:Betoota – Ghost Town

 

Arra Road – Version 2

The word “outback” brings to mind visions of an open barren landscape, sparsely populated, dotted with the ruins of abandoned homes and towns. Yet the journey into western Queensland has been anything but solitary. All along the way, we have been part of a long convoy of caravans and trailers, many heading to the same location – the Big Red Bash.

Whenever or wherever we stop, one of the first questions to be asked of a fellow traveller is, “Heading to the Bash?”, followed by, “Where are you from?”. From all over Australia, music lovers have hooked up their vans and trailers and headed for the Bash. Some are travelling in groups, while others, like us, are travelling on their own. But it doesn’t matter where you stop, or who you meet, the friendliness of strangers is always the same. There is a sense of camaraderie. We are all heading into a remote and harsh landscape, and you never know when you will need to depend on the kindness of strangers.

As we headed north from the Dig Tree along the Arrabury Road, we could see the direction of the road by the long dust cloud that preceded us. We could even count the number of vehicles in front of us by the number of dust clouds. Sometimes we would pass a group of caravans that had pulled off onto the side of the road for morning tea or smoko, as it is often called in regional QLD. With a friendly wave, we would move up a few places in the convoy.

The landscape was indeed quite barren but possessed a stark beauty. You might wonder what could survive out here – but then, we are currently in the middle of one of the worst droughts in living memory. It would be interesting to travel out this way after a wet winter and see the difference.

Haddon Corner

 

We took a little detour off the main road out to Haddon Corner, the point where the borders of Queensland and South Australia meet. It wasn’t until we actually got almost to the end of the road, that we discovered you had to cross two sand dunes. We made it over the first sand dune, but decided to ditch the trailer to cross the second, and pick it up on the way back. I must admit, after all that, Haddon Corner was a little disappointing. I was at least expecting a sign, but there was a monument.

And finally we arrived at Betoota, a ghost town, with a population of zero.

 

Betoota Sign 2

So, why go to Betoota?

In Australian culture, the song “A Pub with no Beer” has achieved iconic status. Immortalised by Australian country singer, Slim Dusty, the words go like this…

But there’s nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear                                                    Than to stand in a bar, of a pub with no beer…

The story of a pub with no beer actually dates back to 1943, when a farmer called Dan Sheahan wrote a poem about a pub with no beer. His poem became the inspiration for  Slim Dusty’s song. You can read more about Dan’s story and poem here.

 

Betoota Hotel

For the last 20 years, the Betoota Pub has been a pub with no beer. Like Noccundra, the Betoota Pub is the last standing building in what was once the town of Betoota. But not for much longer. The Betoota Pub is currently under renovation, with the aim of reopening in August, in time for the Betoota Races. The new owner happened to be there and was quite happy for all the tourists to have a wander through the pub and see the progress so far. The idea is that the pub will be open during the peak tourist season and perhaps for private functions. So, if you’re thinking of getting married in outback QLD, you might like to keep Betoota in mind!

After wandering through the pub, we headed down to the creek to find a peaceful little spot to camp. Plenty of other travellers had the same idea too. It was nice to enjoy the quietness before joining the throng of the gathering masses in Birdsville – our next stop.

 

Betoota

Big Red Bash #2: The Adventure Way

Car & Camper Trailer 2

On the first day of our outback adventure, Dan woke up very excited. He knew what was happening and he couldn’t wait to get going. As soon as breakfast was out of the way, he was in the car, quick as a flash, sitting in the back with a huge grin across his face. Unfortunately, Bec couldn’t come with us this time as the Bash clashed with the beginning of semester two. 

Fine drizzling rain made a wet start for our trip, but we were heading west, so the weather was likely to improve. To make our trip more interesting, we were going to travel to Birdsville via the Adventure Way which follows the old Cobb and Co route through St George, Cunnamulla and Thargomindah to Innamincka, which is just over the border in South Australia. In the old days it would have been a bit of an adventure travelling  in a horse-drawn carriage on roads that were little more than a track. Today though, it’s a sealed road almost all the way to the state border, so it was an easy drive.

 

Riversands Winery – Version 2

On the first day we dropped into the Riversands Winery at St George. Wine tasting is one of my favourite activities when holidaying and Riversands is always a regular stall at the country shows west of Toowoomba. I’ve had Riversands wines before, but this was the first time I have had the opportunity to visit their winery. Driving in past rows of grape vines, we noticed how thick the trunks were and assumed they must be very old vines. However, not so. Those vines were table grapes which have thicker trunks than the wine varieties. One of the unique things about Riversands, is the range of pottery flagons shaped as boots, quart pots and bells. We have a set of their pottery boots which were moulded on the boxing boots of Fred Brophy, an Australian boxer who toured throughout regional QLD with his tent boxing troupe.

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 We spent our first night at the Cunnamulla Tourist Park. It was going to be our only camp with power, and a shower, for quite a while (or so we thought). As the park manager was directing us to our camp site, a large kangaroo provided some excitement as it bounded through the park, dodging caravans and tents and almost collecting a lady on it’s way through! According to the park manager, it’s a regular occurrence.  

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As we continued along The Adventure Way, we stopped at a town called Thargomindah which has an interesting place in Australian history. When we called into the Information centre, I noticed a lot of souvenirs with the words:

London

Paris

     Thargomindah

 What could Thargomindah possibly have in common with London and Paris? Well, London was the first city to use hydro-electricity to power electric street lighting, followed by Paris, and then….in 1898 Thargomindah was the third place in the world, and the first in Australia, to do the same. I think that’s an impressive achievement for a small outback Queensland town.

After Thargomindah, we took a little detour off the main highway to visit a town called Noccundra. It’s not really much of a town anymore. The only building still standing is the pub which is still in operation. So, of course, we just had to call in for a drink.

Noccundra Hotel 2

We had originally planned to spend our second night at Innamincka, just across the QLD-SA border. Innamincka has a place in Australian history due to the sad tale of the explorers Burke and Wills. I had wanted to visit Burke’s grave which is located at Innamincka, however recent rain meant the road was closed – oh well. Innamincka is one of those towns with a very low population; except during Winter when everyone heads to the outback. So there were 4WDs everywhere, lining up for fuel and stocking up with supplies. As you can imagine, the Innamincka store does a roaring trade at this time of the year. Some people, like us, had travelled from the east. Some had come from the west over the Simpson Desert and others had come up from the south on the Strezlecki Track.  Since we had actually made better time than we expected, we headed back out of Innamincka to camp at the Dig Tree for the night. Sitting on the bank of Cooper Creek, the Dig Tree has an important part in the Burke and Wills story, but that will have to wait for another day.     

Inclusion – Side by Side

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Like many other proud Australians, our eyes have been glued to the television screen to cheer on our athletes competing at the 21st Commonwealth Games, here in Queensland, on the Gold Coast. The Commonwealth Games have a long history and have many things in common with the Olympic Games. Since the first games in 1930, they have been held every four years, (except during WWII) to spread goodwill and understanding throughout the Commonwealth of Nations. This is the fifth time Australia has hosted the Commonwealth Games and we are one of only six nations that have attended every games. And, not to boast, we do top the leader board for winning the most medals. As a proud sporting nation, the Commonwealth Games are pretty exciting for us.

The Opening Ceremony on Wednesday night had a strong focus on Australian Indigenous culture as well as our relaxed Australian beach culture. We really enjoyed it all – the Indigenous dancers, the didgeridoo orchestra and the towel change rooms (after all, we all need a little help from our friends sometimes). We were particularly moved by the raising of the Australian flag and the Aboriginal flag together – side by side.

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The parade of athletes began with Scotland, who hosted the last games in Glasgow, followed by the rest of the teams region by region – Europe, Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Caribbean, and Oceania. There are 53 nations in the Commonwealth, but dependent territories are able to compete under their own flags, making a total of 71 teams. Of course the loudest cheer was saved for the Australian team, almost 500 able-bodied and para-athletes, walking out together – side by side.

The Commonwealth Games is not only the largest fully-inclusive international multi-sport games, it was also the first. Since 2002 the Commonwealth Games has been an integrated competition. The athletes march side by side in one national team. The events are scheduled together, which means if you are at the pool, you see both able-bodied swimmers and para-swimmers compete and receive their medals. And all medals are counted in the nation’s total.

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For those of us sitting at home watching the Commonwealth Games, we can see the able-bodied and the para-events, side by side. We can share in the highs and the lows of all the athletes, side by side. The names of all athletes, able-bodied and para, become house-hold names. They are all  representing their country and doing us proud, side by side – as it should be.

Now we enjoy watching the Olympics, both Summer and Winter, too. We especially enjoy watching the Paralympics. Not because we think para-athletes are somehow more super human or more amazing, but because they are great role models for overcoming challenges and embracing life, no matter what curve balls it might throw at you. But we can’t help but notice the great difference in media coverage between the Olympics and the Paralympics.

 A local issue?

Now this might just be a local issue. Maybe it just reflects the attitudes toward people with disabilities in Australia. Or maybe it shows that the Australian media still has a long way to go towards equal representation. Are we alone in our frustration or is this a common experience world wide?

We have certainly come a long way in creating a more inclusive society. Not so long ago, people with disabilities were shut away from the world, excluded from education, the community, from life – they were invisible. Today people with and without disabilities learn together side by side, work together side by side, live together in the community side by side, and in sporting events like the Commonwealth Games, march and compete, side by side – as it should be.

But we still have much further to go

What if parents of children with disabilities didn’t have to fight for appropriate support? What if people with disabilities had better access to public transport, education and work opportunities? What if Olympic and Paralympic athletes marched and competed side by side in a fully integrated, fully inclusive Olympic Games? What if we could see equal representation across the whole of society?

 

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All people learning, living and playing together, side by side. That’s inclusion.