Carnival of Flowers – Celebrating 70 Years

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It’s the first weekend of the September School Holidays, the flowers are out in full bloom and the local parks and gardens are crowded with visitors and tour buses. It must be Carnival time.

The Carnival of Flowers is Toowoomba’s premiere event of the year, a festival that celebrates flowers, local wine and food, and Australian music. It is one of the longest running Australian events, garnering a number of tourism awards and this year it celebrates 70 years, so it will be a very special celebration indeed. For months gardeners have been hard at work in the local parks to prepare the floral displays, and despite the exceedingly dry conditions of the drought, they have done a fabulous job. The floral displays are just beautiful.

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The very first Carnival was held in 1950 and attracted a crowd of around 50,000 to see a three mile procession led by a team of bullocks. Following the hardship of World War Two, the Carnival was envisioned as an event that would encourage economic activity and promote Toowoomba’s reputation as the Garden City. Sadly, I don’t think bullocks are a feature of the Carnival parade anymore, but Toowoomba businesses and community groups put in many hours of hard work to prepare their floats and costumes and put on a spectacular display of colour, music and all things floral. Last year Dan was in the parade on the Yellow Bridge float and he will be again this year, although this time they are just walking the route so I hope they have someone fit and fast to keep up with him!

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Every year the Carnival seems to get bigger and bigger with a variety of events and activities over ten days to keep people of all ages entertained. In keeping with the 70th celebrations there will be 70 different experiences this year for visitors. The Food and Wine Festival has become a popular addition to the Carnival, providing opportunities for visitors to sample Queensland wares while enjoying some iconic Australian entertainment, like John Farnham, Dragon and Bjorn Again. Other events include:

  •  Gardening Competition for Local Gardeners
  •  Photography Competition 
  • Garden Tours
  • Steam Train Rides
  • Talking Pub Tour
  • Carnival Memorabilia Display

We will be heading into the city centre today for the parade but we will be taking advantage of the free shuttle bus service rather than fight the crowds to find a parking spot. We can hop on the bus a short distance from where we live and it takes us into town to Queens Park, the hub of the Carnival. Here visitors can enjoy all the usual carnival entertainment such as amusement rides and side show alley. The Carnival also runs a Park Shuttle service that takes visitors between the three main garden displays at Picnic Point, Queens Park and Laurel Bank Park. Last year the Carnival attracted a crowd of over 255,000 so the shuttle bus is an excellent idea.

From humble beginnings the Carnival of Flowers has grown into a spectacular event that showcases the Toowoomba region, cementing its reputation as the Garden City and providing inspiration for all the novice gardeners among us. If you are planning a trip to Queensland, keep the Carnival of Flowers in mind.

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Carnival of Flowers 1950 – 2019

 

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Laurel Bank Park

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 Increasingly we are becoming a nation of city dwellers. The migration from the bush to the coast in search of study and employment opportunities expands the urban sprawl of our major cities and empties our once thriving rural towns. But the city can be a busy, noisy and polluted place, especially in its heart – the CBD. There is the stop-start drone of the city traffic, the constant flashing of traffic lights, the scream of ambulances racing to an emergency and the occasional train rumbling down the track. 

The pressure and pace of city life can drain our energy and lead to serious health issues. However, recent studies have recognised the healing benefits of time spent in the outdoors. Spending time outdoors doesn’t just make us feel better but can also reduce our risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, stress and high blood pressure. The busy pace of city life can make it difficult to find time for a nature break but urban green spaces like parks and gardens may provide a solution. They are not only aesthetically pleasing but also provide people with places to exercise and socialise.   

Luckily for us here in Toowoomba, we are blessed with many urban green spaces. Toowoomba is not named the Garden City for its concrete jungle, but for the parks and gardens scattered around the suburbs and right in the city centre itself. Laurel Bank Park is one of these. Close to the CBD,  Laurel Bank Park provides a beautiful and peaceful escape for city dwellers and workers.

Laurel Bank Park was originally owned by Samuel George Stephens. I gather he was a keen gardener because he not only designed the gardens’ original layout but was affectionately called the “Man of Flowers”.  In 1932 Stephens generously donated the park to the people of Toowoomba and left its care in the hands of the local council, who still do a marvellous job taking care of it today. Some of the garden beds date back prior to 1943 and the Commemoration Gates on West Street have been in place since 1934.

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It is a beautifully designed park with walkways, arches, a fountain, a scented garden and at this time of the year, beautiful floral displays, including a mass planting of tulips. During the week people come to the park for lunch and a leisurely stroll. On the weekends they gather for picnics and barbecues, weddings and other family or community events. During November it is a popular place for Year 12 formal photos. It is a lovely place all year round but especially now in the lead up to the Carnival of Flowers.

Laurel Bank Park is not just for the adults. Children can expend their energy in the playground, climb the raised viewing platform for a better view or rest quietly on Thomas the Tank Engine. It is a park we know quite well because it is located right next door to Yellow Bridge, where Dan joins his mates everyday for a range of group and individual activities. It is the perfect place for them to go for a walk, play some games or gather for a BBQ lunch.

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If you are ever visiting Toowoomba for the Carnival of Flowers or just for a holiday any time of the year, Laurel Bank Park is a must see. Bring a picnic hamper, stroll around the gardens and stop to smell the flowers.

 

 

Mr Percival in the Creek

 

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Strolling along the West Creek walkway, we spot a variety of birdlife. We see ducks swimming on the pond or waddling near the bank, little birds that flit over our heads,  and as we start to approach magpie season,  those black and white marauders that like to swoop on unsuspecting walkers. There is even a rogue goose on the loose on which we do need to keep a watchful eye. Most of the time we see it swimming happily in the middle of the lake but occasionally we have been pushed to the other side of the road when it decides to make a bee line for us, wings flapping and honking loudly.

The other day though, was the first time I had ever seen a pelican swimming in the creek. I had to look twice – yes, it is Mr Percival! That tell-tale bill stretched wide open is always a dead give away. I couldn’t let this photo opportunity slip by, so approaching very slowly and carefully while drawing the phone out of my pocket at the same time, I managed to snap a couple of photos before it took to the sky.

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Now, I am not exactly sure that it was Mr Percival. It could have been Mr Ponder or even Mr Proud. After all, pelicans do look pretty much the same to the untrained eye. And if you are not sure what I am talking about, then it’s time to read Storm Boy by Colin Thiele, a classic Australian story about a young boy and some orphaned pelicans. I haven’t seen the recent remake but I do remember seeing the original film back in my primary school days. Perhaps it’s time to dust off my old copy too.

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#Book Snap Sunday – The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

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I am joining in again with Sharon for #Book Snap Sunday and it seems that we both had the same idea; taking inspiration from our natural environment. As you can see from the picture above, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, by Holly Ringland, is perched somewhat precariously on a branch in what I think is a Grevillea bush.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a beautiful book. Not only is the cover beautifully illustrated with Australian Native flowers, but each chapter is named after an Australian flower. Visually the book is reminiscent of a nature journal, complete with definitions, descriptions and drawings of each Australian flower. Ringland’s prose is equally beautiful and yet the story packs a punch, with themes of loss, trauma, betrayal and domestic violence.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is Ringland’s first book and I think it is a stunning debut. One of the themes that resonated with me concerns protection of the ones we love. It is natural as a parent, grandparent or carer to want to protect our children from harm. Sometimes though, in our attempt to keep them safe, we can inadvertently make them vulnerable and actually put them at risk. Without giving too much away, I found this aspect of the story to be thought provoking. It’s hard to watch your child experience the spills and hurts of life, but it is through these experiences that they will develop resilience and learn to thrive – much like the wildflowers of the Australian bush.

Australian flowers play a big part in Alice’s journey so it only seemed right for native flowers to be present in the Book Snap. Sadly, my small courtyard doesn’t have any native plants, but luckily I spied this flowering bush along the walking path that follows the West Creek parklands. It is one of our favourite walking tracks in Toowoomba and you can read more about it here.

Until next time, happy reading.

A Day at Victor Harbor

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Victor Harbor is a small coastal town, 71km south of Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula. It has a long history as a popular holiday destination for many South Australian families and it holds a special place in the hearts of my family. Back in the 1930’s, when my grandmother was a young woman, she enjoyed holidays at Victor Harbor with her friends and family. Later, when she was married and had a family of her own, she continued to enjoy the time they spent every summer at Victor Harbor. My mum and aunty remember these holidays with great fondness: building sandcastles on the beach, eating fish and chips on the grass under the tall Norfolk Pines, and going for a drive around to see the Bluff. As one of the next generation, I also have fond memories of summer holidays at Victor Harbor with my grandparents and cousins. 

 It’s funny how place becomes important to us as we grow older. Victor Harbor was a favourite place for my grandmother because it held so many memories for her. Even in her old age, she still liked to go there, to sit on a bench overlooking the sea, and remember. My grandmother passed away quite a few years ago now, but still Victor Harbor remains a special place for the rest of her family. We are all scattered across Australia, but when we do get together in South Australia, Victor Harbor is always at the top of our list. We remember the family holidays, but most of all, we remember my grandmother and we always feel close to her in Victor Harbor. 

Before we even left Queensland for our recent trip to South Australia, I knew that I wanted to visit Victor Harbor. It’s such a special place for all of us, that when my aunty learned we were all going for a day trip, she burst into tears. Living in Queensland too, she doesn’t get down to South Australia very often either, and given the circumstances of our trip, she didn’t expect she would have the opportunity for a visit to Victor Harbor. I knew then, that come what may – wind, hail, or even snow, we had to go to Victor Harbor.

  Even at the height of summer, the weather in Victor Harbor can be cool. In the middle of winter, it can be downright cold, wet and windy. And that was exactly what I was expecting. But I didn’t care. We were going to Victor Harbor, whatever the weather. Fortunately, it turned out to be a beautiful day – cool, overcast but fine. In the summer you would hardly be able to move for the crowds, but if you don’t mind the cold, blustery weather of a southern winter, then July is a good time to go.

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Looking back towards the mainland

One of the major attractions of Victor Harbor is Granite Island, which is connected to the mainland by a pedestrian causeway. After crossing the causeway, visitors can follow a walking path around the island and take in the beautiful ocean views. I don’t know how many times I have walked around Granite Island but I never get tired of the view. I love the ocean. It’s the one thing I miss living in Toowoomba. This time there was something new. Some very interesting and sometimes quite unusual modern sculptures had been erected around the island, complete with signs not to climb on them, which of course is a direct invitation for any child! 

Granite Island used to be home to a large colony of Fairy Penguins. In past years, if you were there at the right time, you could spot them making their way back to their burrows. Sadly, the penguins have fallen victim to fur seals and worst of all, local vandals. In 2012 the colony was numbered at just 7 penguins! You can still take a penguin tour at dusk but otherwise access to the island is restricted at night in order to protect the penguins. We didn’t see any penguins but we did see this sign! 

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One of my favourite attractions at Victor Harbor is the horse drawn tram. It is one of only two horse drawn trams in the world that still maintains a daily schedule. The tram is drawn by one of six clydesdales and carries visitors out to the island and back again along the causeway.  The tram began operating as a tourist attraction way back in 1894. Over the years there have been a number of different trams but sadly the service came to an end in the mid 1950s. However it was never forgotten by the many South Australians who holidayed at Victor Harbor. For them, Victor Harbour was never quite the same without the horse drawn tram.

In 1986 South Australia celebrated it’s 150th Jubilee and as part of the celebrations, a number of community projects came into being, including the reprisal of the Victor Harbor horse drawn tram service . Unfortunately the old trams were long gone. One ended up in the US in a museum; the other in the sea after years of deterioration and vandalism. So they had to build them from scratch based on the original designs.  In June 1986 the Victor Harbor horse drawn tram service had a grand re-opening and since then has continued to cart visitors back and forth over the causeway. After all my visits to Victor Harbor over the years, this was the first time that I finally got to have a ride on the tram!

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The day would not have been complete, of course, without fish and chips. In the summer there are plenty of lovely spots to throw out a picnic rug under the Norfolk Pines, but in the middle of winter we had to be content with the foreshore cafe. This was our last day in South Australia, so it was so lovely to spend it with our family in a place that means so much to all of us.

 If you ever visit South Australia, a trip to Victor Harbor is a must. Stroll around the island, enjoy a relaxed ride on the horse drawn tram and have fish and chips on the grass under the pines. And if you have time, take a penguin tour at dusk. I don’t know when my next trip to South Australia will be, but you can bet it will include a trip to Victor Harbor.

Book Review: Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson

 

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Last year as part of my studies, I completed a creative writing unit called Writing About Place. We conducted roving workshops in the natural and urban environment, explored personal essays and short stories about the importance of place and were required to select two texts to review, as well as write our own fiction and non-fiction pieces. When choosing a nature book to review, Inga Simpson’s book, Where the Trees Were (2016), immediately came to mind. Inga Simpson is an Australian writer known for her love of nature.

 

First of all, the blurb…

Finding a grove of carved trees forged a bond between Jay and her four childhood friends and opened their eyes to a wider world. But their attempt to protect the grove ends in disaster, and that one day on the river changes their lives forever.

Seventeen years later, Jay finally has her chance to make amends. But at what cost? Not every wrong can be put right, but sometimes looking the other way is no longer an option.

 and now the review…

In the summer holidays of 1987, Jay and her friends spend their days on the river, swimming, climbing trees and catching yabbies. When they discover a grove of carved trees, they immediately sense the need for secrecy and swear an oath to protect the trees. Inga Simpson’s Where the Trees Were follows Jay and her friends as they negotiate adolescence, relationships and high school, while trying to keep their promise to each other and the trees. However, two incidents occur that will test their friendship and change their lives forever.

Moving back and forth in time, from Jay’s childhood home in the Lachlan Valley to Canberra 2004, where she works as a conservator at the National Museum, the story pulls together the themes of identity, Indigenous Land Rights, conservation and the consequences of secrets. Simpson deftly negotiates the shifts in time and place by alternating the narration between first and third person, while still maintaining Jay’s point of view.

Where the Trees Were is Simpson’s third book and was shortlisted for an Indie Book Award, as well as being longlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Australian Book Industry Awards, and the Green Carnation Prize. Simpson has also been a winner of the Eric Rolls Nature Essay Prize. She describes Where the Trees Were as “a deeply personal story” and her passion for nature is evident throughout the book. Nature is everywhere. It is not just in Jay’s observations of the stringy barks and red gums that line the river, or the dragonflies, cockatoos and platypus, but the way the river and the trees speak to her. Even in Canberra, Jay is constantly aware of the plane trees and currawongs, the crimson rosellas and the fresh snow on the Brindabellas. Simpson brings an attention to the detail of nature that enlivens the senses. 

However, Where the Trees Were does more than just draw the reader’s attention to the nature that surrounds them. While Jay carts grain before heading off to university, she notes, “That harvest was theirs; they were part of it, almost part of the land itself.” Food, and the harvesting of food from nature, is everywhere, from the simple roast pork and vegetables, to the fancy dishes of the Canberra cafés, from gathering blackberries and apples along the river, to drinking a nice red from the local winery. Simpson gently underscores the relationship we have with nature, no matter how urbane our lives might be, and our responsibility for its protection.    

Where the Trees Were is a beautifully told story that evokes memories of a more carefree time, when children could wander and explore from dawn to dusk, discover the secrets of the natural world, climb trees and camp out under the stars. It calls us away from our screens, to see and hear and reconnect with nature and each other. 

Reconnecting with Nature

As I read Where the Trees Were, I was inspired by Inga to recapture some of that connection we have with nature. Living in a regional city, it is easy to forget that the food from the supermarket, packaged and labelled in plastic, once started life as a living, growing plant. I wanted to reconnect with nature by growing and harvesting food from our garden, to feel it’s freshness as we prepare it in our own kitchen, and taste the textures and flavours straight from our plate.

We only have a small courtyard, but we have started growing a few vegetables and herbs in pots. We’ve planted spring onions, leeks, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, lettuce and a wide range of herbs. It is quite surprising how much you can grow in a small courtyard when you put your mind to it. We’ve even got some climbing snow peas.

There were a few stops and starts, like remembering that plants need water too, but finally we achieved our goal – a garden salad where everything came from our garden. It was actually pretty exciting. I’m having to wait now for the next handful of cherry tomatoes to ripen, but it feels good to add a little something from the garden, even if it’s only some fresh herbs. 

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I love the way a book can have a direct impact on your life. It is one of the things that I think is so important about literature. It can take us physical places like the Lachlan Valley or Canberra, but it can also take us to places in our mind, where we can reflect on the one question that sits at the heart of our being: what does it mean to be human? As we read, we discover a little more about ourselves, our relationship with the world and with each other. Where the Trees Were invites us to leave the office once in a while and reconnect with nature. It may even rekindle some childhood memories of your own.

Happy Reading

Inga Simpson (2016), Where the Trees Were, Hachette.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Red Bash #6: Finally – the BRB

View from Big Red

Finally, after travelling the Adventure Way, reflecting on the Burke and Wills Saga, and hanging out in Birdsville, it was time to head out to the Big Bash campsite. To ease congestion and prevent long delays, Roll In to the campsite had been extended over three days. We didn’t take up the offer of early entry but there were still plenty of  vehicles heading out with us on Tuesday morning.  At times it did seem a bit like a free for all on the road, as at one point there seemed to be almost four lanes of vehicles, all travelling in the same direction, all jostling to get further ahead in the pack. We just took it easy – after all, we’re all going to the same place.

Arrival at the Big Bash was well organised with plenty of guides to point us in the right direction and help us find a spot. It was quite a unique experience camping among a crowd numbering in the thousands and there was plenty of dust floating in the air as campers walked back and forth from their campsites to the stage and Big Bash Plaza. Definitely not a place for wearing white.

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The View from Big Red

One of the top things to do at the Bash is climb Big Red. The sand dune is quite deceiving. You don’t realise how tall or steep it is until you start climbing. Luckily, I had Dan to tow me up the side, although I do think he picked the steepest route possible. It is only from the top of Big Red that you really get a sense of the size of the crowd.  It was also the only place where you could get a signal, so everybody had their phones out, taking selfies and sending messages. If you wanted to make a call, you had to climb Big Red.

Beach Volley Ball on Big Red – Version 2

Big Red was a fantastic playground for the kids who spent all day and some of the night climbing up and sliding down, over and over again. There was also a beach volley ball court on top. You probably couldn’t get a court that was further from the ocean than the one on top of Big Red.

One of the most interesting features of the Big Bash Campsite were the self-composting toilets. I thought they were really cool. Port-a-loos are standard fare at any festival these days, but these worked more like long-drops, except that the drop was into a wheelie bin parked underneath, rather than a pit in the ground. The loos were located all around the campsite, mostly in sets of about eight, and a sprinkle of sawdust was used to facilitate the  composting process. By the time we got out to the Bash we were quite used to lining up, but the line up first thing in the morning was always especially long. The thing I liked the most, though, was the unique artwork on the doors. No two doors were alike.

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The Big Red Bash provides a lot of opportunities for campers from across Australia to get to know each other. People socialise with the campers next-door and give a hand with a flat tyre or leaking water tank. On Wednesday morning the crowd came together to cheer on the participants in the Bashville Drags Race. Competitors, dressed in drag, climbed to the top of Big Red and then raced down the dune and into the campsite. I was impressed with the array of glitter, feathers, sparkling tiaras, flowing wigs and gorgeous gowns on the mostly male field. It was hugely entertaining and raised money for a very good cause – The Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Then on Thursday morning, there was the Guinness World Record attempt for the Biggest Nutbush Dance. Aiming to beat 522, practice sessions were held so participants could perfect their technique and then they nervously lined up in place, hoping they wouldn’t be the one tapped on the shoulder for being out of time. With about 2000 participants, I think the record was well and truly achieved.

The crowd

Of course, the real reason we had all gathered at the base of Big Red in the dust was for three days of classic Australian music entertainment which kicked off on Tuesday afternoon. Campers trekked down to the stage area loaded with rugs, folding chairs and eskies packed with refreshments. Hats and sunscreen were a must for the afternoon and coats and scarves for the evening, because as soon as the sun slipped below the horizon, the chill of the desert could be felt.

It was so good to see big name artists willing to endure a little discomfit, the dust and the desert to put on a show at an iconic landmark like Big Red. Not only does it raise essential funds for the Flying Doctor Service but it brings tourists into small rural towns feeling the bite of the drought. We enjoyed all the acts. Adam Brand got the crowd on its feet for a tribute to the soldiers who fought and died for their country. Dan really enjoyed The Angels and Hoodoo Gurus rocking out the desert. And on Thursday night we sang our hearts out with John Farnham and his classic “You’re the Voice”.

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Camel Rides Were A Popular Activity

And then it was time to pack up and go home. There were about 7,000 people and over 2,000 vehicles camping out at the Big Bash and most of them wanted to leave first thing Friday morning. Getting 2,000 vehicles out of the gate in an orderly fashion was going to be no mean feat. We had already heard stories about the long delays of previous years, so we got up early, before 6am, when it was still only -3.5 degrees, packed up and joined the line. We were in the line up by 6.45am and that’s where we sat for the next hour until they opened the gates at about 8am. Tempers were getting little testy when some campers, who thought they could just sleep into 8am, tried to push into the line. We didn’t have a radio in our car but apparently there were some choice words being said over the airwaves!

Considering the large number of campers lined up, the Roll Out did proceed pretty smoothly and we were out the gate by about 8.30am and heading back towards Birdsville. Again, it felt like travelling in a long convoy, although by this time, we weren’t strangers so much anymore, but fellow bashers. As we all headed down the highway, I don’t think we expected to be pulled up in a drive-thru random breath test, west of Windorah, in the middle of nowhere.  I guess the police thought they might catch some campers who had had a heavy night, but it did slow the traffic down a little coming into Windorah, where, of course, everybody wanted to fuel up.

Incoming!

Fortunately, the Windorah locals were ready for the onslaught. No doubt they probably saw the cloud of dust drifting in from the West and yelled “Incoming!” They had a detour all set up to divert the campers away from the main street and through the fuel stations in a steady but orderly fashion. From Windorah we went on to Quilpie for the night, where, in the middle of town, we hit our only kangaroo for the entire trip. Fortunately, it was only just a little stunned.

We were now approaching the end of our outback adventure, and needing to be back home for Monday, we took the most direct route along the Warrego Highway through Roma, Miles and Chinchilla. We had a really great trip and enjoyed our time at the Bash. We’d like to go again some time in the future, but perhaps next time we’ll bring some friends too. Throughout the trip I had a little project going on, which will all be revealed in the next and final post about our Big Red Bash adventure.

Big Red Bash #4:Betoota – Ghost Town

 

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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.

 

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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 #3: Burke, Wills and the Dig Tree

Coopers Creek

Cooper Creek

The Dig Tree is an important site in Australian history and in the sorry saga of the Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition. Set on the bank of Cooper Creek, it is a popular camping spot for Australian tourists and the place where we stopped for our second night on our way to Birdsville for the Big Red Bash. It is a peaceful spot. It is almost 160 years since the ill-fated expedition and the landscape has changed little since Burke and Wills first clapped eyes on it and yet, it is a stark reminder of the need to respect the outback.

Dig Tree Campsite – Version 2

The Burke and Wills Story 

Robert O’Hara Burke was the leader of a Victorian expedition to cross the Australian continent from Melbourne, on the south coast of Victoria, to the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the north coast of Australia. Leaving Melbourne in August 1860, the team experienced a series of calamities, including broken wagons, torrential rain, rat plagues, starvation and disease.

Three months after leaving Melbourne, Burke established a Depot Camp on the bank of Cooper Creek, where the Dig Tree is now located. From the Depot Camp, Burke set out with three men (William John Wills, Charley Gray and John King) to continue on to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The men left at the Camp were instructed to wait for four months.

Burke and Wills did make it to the Gulf, although they didn’t quite get to the open ocean. However, the journey had taken two months and 2/3 of their rations. Gray died on their way back to the Depot Camp and when they finally staggered into the camp, it was deserted. Finding a coolibah tree emblazoned with the words: DIG (the Dig Tree), they discovered buried provisions and a note explaining that the rest of the team had left – just that morning. 

Dig Tree

The Dig Blaze

By this time, King and Wills were so weak they could barely crawl, so instead of following the departed team, Burke, Wills and King followed the Cooper Creek and this is where Wills, and then Burke, eventually died. Of the four men who set out from the Depot Camp, John King was the only one to make it back to Melbourne. He only survived because he was taken in by an Indigenous tribe, who cared for him until he was found by a Relief team in September 1861.

The bodies of Burke and Wills were eventually recovered and buried in Melbourne where they received a state funeral – the first for Victoria – and in their honour, the expedition was renamed The Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition.

The Dig Tree is believed to be about 200-250 years old and is now protected by a board walk and guard rail. On a tree nearby, there is an image of Burke’s face, carved by John Dick in 1898.

 Brave or Foolhardy?

Seven men died.

Three men, Burke, Wills and King, walked a total of 5,000 km from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria and back to the Depot Camp at Cooper Creek.

But… Relief teams mounted by Victoria, South Australia and Queensland did succeed in surveying and mapping areas of the interior, which up to that point, were unknown to the white community.

This is just a brief summary of a story that is both fascinating and tragic and you can discover more about Burke and Wills here. From the Dig Tree we head north to a small town called Betoota, with a population of …0. But that’s next time.

 

Source: http://www.burkeandwills.net.au

Big Red Bash #1: Camping in the Outback

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I love camping. There’s something restorative about getting away from the rat race and heading for the great outdoors. Camping is a family tradition. I have many happy childhood memories of family camping trips. Our family first started out in a caravan, and then, when we outgrew the caravan, we graduated to a tent. At first we explored the popular scenic and historic tourist routes of Australia, but then we started to venture out into the National Parks and the Outback. Away from the city you can actually see the stars, toast marshmallows over a campfire and observe the native fauna in their natural habitat. It’s certainly an experience I wanted my own children to have too.

Dan and Bec love camping as well. Our first camping trips were in a purple and green dome tent, and when we outgrew that, we graduated to a camper trailer. Every year while visiting family in QLD, we would take a few days out to go camping in one of the National Parks close by. Before Dan started school we took a few weeks exploring the south-west corner of Western Australia. We tended to gravitate to the natural settings – the beach, the mountains or the bush, but we had never gone into the real outback. A few weeks ago, that all changed.

the world’s most remote music festival

In early July, Paul, Dan and I hooked up the camper trailer and started out on a trip to the 2018 Big Red Bash. The Big Red Bash, also called the Bash or the BRB, is the world’s most remote music festival. It is held at Big Red, a 40 metre sand dune west of Birdsville, QLD. The Bash began in 2013 and has continued to grow each year. It’s a really great celebration of Australian country and rock music and raises money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. When we saw this year’s line up – The Angels, Hoodoo Gurus, John Farnham (just to name a few) – we knew we just had to go.

We have been camping before, but this trip was going to pose a few challenges. First of all, it would be the longest camping trip we had taken for quite some time. After 10 days together in a car and camper trailer, would we still like each other? Would we all make it back in one piece?

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Big Red Bash Campsite

 

Secondly, camping in the outback means: no power, no running water, no supermarkets. Camping without power and running water isn’t really an issue. We’ve done it before – just not for 10 days. We were also going to an area that was kind of remote and an environment known for its harsh conditions. It would require careful planning and carrying certain items in case of emergency. On the bright side, however; we were not going to be alone. Approximately 9,000 other people from all around Australia would also be heading to the same location.

Thirdly, we were going to be covering some big distances. By the time we would get back home we would have travelled over 3,000 km. However, as you travel west, the towns get fewer and much further apart. Apart from our first night and the days out at Big Red, our itinerary in between was a little hazy. A reasonable part of our trip would be on unsealed roads and road conditions can change quite quickly if the weather turns wet. So we would have to be flexible and play it a bit by ear. We were on holiday, after all.

Needless to say, we made it back safely, still all in one piece and still liking each other. We had no major incidents, met some great people along the way and had a fantastic time. Camping in the Australian outback is not something to be embarked on without due care and thought, but the stark beauty and harshness of the landscape inspires awe and respect. 

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As you can probably tell from the title, this is just the first part of a series on our Big Red Bash experience. It’s the first time I have done a series so I hope you enjoy reading about our adventure in the outback and be encouraged to explore the great outdoors in your own part of the world.