Sidecar Racing in Stanthorpe

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Classic Sidecar Racing in the Netherlands

Just mention the word “sidecar” and I immediately think of the “Two Fat Ladies“- that iconic cooking show from the 90’s. So when Paul suggested last year that we go to see some sidecar racing, I couldn’t think of anything I would like less. One of Paul’s farmer mates from out west is a sidecar racer and he was going to be competing at the Carnell Classic in Stanthorpe. After being bribed with the promise of wine tasting I agreed to give it a go.

Stanthorpe is located in south east Queensland, about 237km south of Toowoomba, in a region known as the Granite Belt. It is a very beautiful area, known for its biennial Apple and Grape Festival and as a producer of some very fine wines. There are over 50 wineries in the Stanthorpe area and it has quickly become my favourite wine region in Queensland.

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Storm King Dam, Stanthorpe, QLD

We first visited Stanthorpe in September 2010 when we camped at Storm King Dam on the outskirts of Stanthorpe for about a week. September is usually a good time to go camping. It’s Spring – not too cold, but not too hot. But this was Stanthorpe. Possibly one of the coldest places in Queensland and it was absolutely freezing. Despite the weather, we did have a good time. At least I did. I love wine tasting. It’s fun to taste new wines and chat to the winemakers. Sadly, Bec doesn’t agree. She thinks it’s very boring, but we did do a few fun things for Dan and Bec as well.

The Granite Belt Maze is a great place for kids, big and small. There are a number of different maze adventures which involve collecting clues to solve a puzzle. They also have a mini golf course and a child size chess game. When we were there in 2010, the maze was a traditional hedge maze, but unfortunately in the Queensland floods of 2011, the maze was flooded and the trees died. A traditional tree maze takes a long time to grow, so they were forced to replace it with a timber maze. It’s still fun to do but not quite as challenging as the old one.

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The Granite Belt Maze before and after the QLD floods

Granite Belt Maze – Version 2

Well,  the sidecar racing turned out to be far more interesting than I expected. The side car was not much more than a platform on the left side of the bike. The passenger sat on the platform, leaning out over the back of the bike or over the sidecar as the bike went round the corners. Definitely not for the faint hearted! I couldn’t quite believe it at first when I saw them hanging out over the sidecar, almost touching the track. It was actually quite exciting.

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Sidecar Racing at Carnell Raceway, Stanthorpe, QLD

The sidecar racing was part of a motor bike competition called the Carnell Classic which features classic bikes, some as old as 70-80 years. It was amazing that they were still going and some of the riders seemed to be almost as old! It is a relaxed, semi-competitive event which gives bike lovers a chance to have some fun out on the track in a safe environment. Well, reasonably safe. The ambulance was on hand for any spills.

I ended up enjoying the racing so much that I told Paul I’d be happy to go again. In an amazing coincidence, just after our first experience of sidecar racing there was an interesting article about sidecar racing on the ABC which you can read about here. This year, when Paul suggested going to Stanthorpe again for the sidecar racing I was rearing to go.  So just a few weeks ago we headed down to Stanthorpe for some more sidecar racing and wine tasting (of course!).

Dan really enjoyed the racing. He loves anything with wheels. Sometimes when we’re driving around town you’ll see his head do a quick turn as he has noticed something interesting – a sports car, a Harley Davidson or just a shiny new truck. At the races Dan sat in his folding chair with his arm up in the air, just like the flag man, shouting out “GO GO GO” as the bikes zoomed off of the starting grid.

Who knows, maybe sidecar racing might become a regular event for us. Apparently later in the year, there is a sidecar event for those who are serious racers. Paul’s mate says those guys are really mad racers which just sounds like another reason to visit Stanthorpe again.

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Toowoomba – Garden City

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On most mornings of the week, after I take Dan to Yellow Bridge, I like to take a walk along the West Creek walkway. Passing walkers with dogs straining at the leash and children on bikes, enjoying their last days of freedom before the end of the school holidays, I realise how spoilt we are for parks in Toowoomba. Throughout the city there are over 240 parks and gardens. Most are just little parks or playgrounds, usually within walking distance, dotted around the suburbs, like this one that was just a few steps down the road from our last house….

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Then there are the more formal gardens of Toowoomba, such as the Japanese Gardens, Laurel Bank Park right next to Yellow Bridge, where Dan goes every week, Picnic Point  with scenic views of the Darling Downs, and Queens Park right in the CBD. Every September these gardens attract thousands of visitors as Toowoomba hosts the Carnival of Flowers. Even in the midst of drought, the parks and gardens provide a little oasis from the hustle and bustle of city life. Despite its city status, the open spaces of Toowoomba’s gardens and parklands help to foster a friendly country atmosphere. It is one of the things that I like most about Toowoomba and it reminds me of my hometown, Adelaide in South Australia.

But it wasn’t always this way. 

Travelling back in history, I discovered that Toowoomba once provided a very different view. Back in 1878, the streets of Toowoomba were littered with…

overflowing cesspits, filthy pigsties, dirty poultry houses, offensive middens … putrefying accumulations of fruit and vegetables, ill kept drains and stagnating slop-water and slime’

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it. Hardly the picture of a garden city, but probably no different to any other city in the world during the nineteenth century. It is quite shameful to think how quickly European settlers were able to turn a pristine location into a cesspit of filth and slime. I am reminded of the story of King Midas, except that instead of turning things to gold, we have a tendency for turning things to filth.

But we can turn it around.

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As I wander along the walkways and around the gardens today, past the artificial lake where enthusiasts sail their remote controlled boats, past the floating water lilies or the waterfall gushing down the quarry cliff-face, it is hard to imagine the overflowing cesspits and stagnating slime. In a city known for its gardens and clean mountain air, it’s difficult to imagine typhoid epidemics and schools without proper sanitation. We may not always be able to return locations to their original condition, but we can always do something to turn a cesspit into an oasis.

I think the Toowoomba Regional Council should be commended for their efforts to create a healthy, attractive and sustainable environment for the city’s residents and visitors. All through the year, and especially in the lead up to the Carnival, you can see them hard at work, planting, pruning, irrigating and mowing all the parks and gardens. With around  1000 hectares of parkland to maintain, it’s certainly a massive job.

But wherever we live in the world, we can all play our part. It’s always a shame to see our environment littered with refuse – especially just a few steps from a bin. It’s not hard to…

  • Put your rubbish in the bins provided or take it with you.
  • Recycle your containers and rubbish
  • Keep the waterways clean for the fish, turtles and birdlife

Do you have some favourite parks or gardens in your hometown? I’d love to hear about them and if you’re ever in Queensland in September, please come on down to the Carnival.

 

Reference

Enid Barclay, “Fevers and Stinks: Some problems of Public Health in the 1870s and 1880s”, Qld Heritage, Vol 2, no. 4 1971 pp 3-13.  

 

 

Big Red Bash #7: Signs for the Times

I know. It’s been a long time between drinks. I had intended for this post to be out some time ago. Then life happened. A bunch of assignments, a sudden death in the family, a sick kid…

But here we are finally at the end of our outback adventure and as I promised last time, this final instalment is about a special project I had going during our trip. Travelling through the Australian outback necessitates long stretches of driving. Sometimes the scenery doesn’t change all that much. Occasionally we spot some livestock or pass another vehicle. We also have to keep a look out for kangaroos who decide the grass is greener on the other side of the highway. But there is one thing that often catches our attention – town signs.

Not so long ago, the town signs around Australia were pretty standard – a simple white sign with black lettering. But this is not the case any more. I have noticed a  change in recent years to utilise a wide variety of designs which reflect something about the town’s location, industry or history. I think it’s a good idea. Not only are there some really interesting and beautiful designs, but the signs give little clues to the history that might be discovered and inspire travellers to stop a while to explore.

As we set off on our trip, I thought it would be interesting to get a photo of every town sign on our route, after all it might be quite a while before we were back that way. I managed to do this for almost all of the towns we passed through, stopped for a cuppa or stayed for a while. Here are some of the interesting things we noticed on route or have discovered since coming home.

 

Australian towns have some very interesting names and sometimes you wonder where they came from. Towns like Cunnamulla, Thargomindah and Wallumbilla are believed to originate from the indigenous names for the area. Others, like Condamine, Mitchell and Roma are named after Colonial figures and explorers.

 

It became quite apparent that towns within the same shire often shared similar designs, shapes and backgrounds, yet included a feature specific to their own area. I really liked the signs for Bollon and St George, which I thought were not only beautifully designed but also quite original.

 

I also liked some of the signs in the Maranoa shire which had a very pretty purple, pink and red sunset background with a striking black silhouette.

 

Four of the towns on our route – Condamine, Cunnamulla, Birdsville and Wallumbilla – are all featured in the Australian version of the song “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Even Toowoomba gets a mention too.

 

As rural towns decline and the population migrates to the big cities or the coast, tourism becomes an essential industry throughout the interior. Much as we always say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a town by its sign – the truth is that we do. So anything that might encourage people to stop for a while in towns they would usually drive straight through, is a really great tourism initiative. The signs remind us that every town is unique, and despite the dwindling population, that these little places have been home to many people over the years and have their own place in our history.

Brisbane Writers Festival 2018

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A few weeks ago Bec and I travelled down to Brisbane for the 2018 Writers Festival. It was the first time I had attended the Festival but luckily Bec had had the opportunity to go when she was in grade seven. It’s always been a highlight of her last year at Primary School because she was able to meet Emily Rodda and have her copy of The Golden Door signed. It was the first time she had ever met an author. I had once been to the Adelaide Writers Festival, many moons ago, but this was my first experience of the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.

The Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF) has a long history, starting life in 1962 as the Warana Writers Convention. More than fifty years later, it has grown into a three day event, with over 150 sessions and drawing a crowd of over 20,000 literary lovers. The events are housed mainly at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) and the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), both located very conveniently at South Bank in the CBD. 

The key drawcard of the BWF for us, was Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series. We have both loved the Divergent series, although I am still to read the last book – you know, so many books, so little time – and Bec has really enjoyed the Carve the Mark duology.  As soon as we discovered that Veronica Roth was coming, that was it, we were so there! 

Our BWF schedule began on Thursday evening with Dystopian Futures: An Evening with Veronica Roth and Friends. Veronica was interviewed by Kim Wilkins, who is an Australian writer based in Brisbane. Kim writes fantasy, as well as general fiction under the name Kimberley Freeman. It was quite exciting to see Veronica Roth up close and hear her talk about her books and her recent experiences with Australian wildlife. The highlight, of course, was when Bec was able to have her copy of The Fates Divide signed by Veronica.

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On Friday, Bec was having a study day while I caught the train into the city to attend two sessions and just soak up the literary atmosphere. My first session for the day was A Hundred Small Lessons with Ashley Hay and Kristina Olsson. I was unfamiliar with Ashley Hay but she has had a very accomplished career in journalism and fiction. Ashley was interviewed by Kristina Olsson, who is another award-winning author new to me, but that’s the beauty of writers festivals. We not only get to meet our favourite authors but also discover some new ones too. Ashley’s work is apparently known for its ”incandescent intelligence and a rare sensibility.” Her most recent novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, is about “the many small decisions – the invisible moments – that come to make a life.” It explores what it means to be human and the way that place changes who we are. It is a story of love and of life.

I really enjoyed the conversation between Ashley and Kristina. One of the things that really stood out to me, was Ashley’s encouragement to pay attention to the little things of life because these little moments or lessons are the real stuff of life. Straight after the session I headed directly to the Festival bookshop and bought two of her books, The Railwayman’s Wife, which explores grief, and A Hundred Small Lessons. Of course, I was also tempted by two other titles, The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (winner of the Stella Prize in 2017) and Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. And I just couldn’t resist a Hermione Granger library bag…. You might notice the little yellow tag in the top right hand corner. Remember the days when we used to fill out those little yellow cards when we borrowed a library book? Well, that’s exactly what it looks like. The bags were produced by Out of Print and proceeds of their products go towards funding literacy programs and donating books to needy communities. A very worthy cause.

After lunch I attended Writing as Women’s Work with Anne-Marie Priest and Melissa Ashley. Anne-Marie’s most recent book, A Free Flame  is a group portrait of four leading 20th century writers, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett, Ruth Park and Christina Stead. It explores their lives and the challenges they faced as women writers when women’s writing didn’t receive the respect it deserved. Melissa’s novel, The Birdman’s Wife, also focuses on another overlooked woman, Elizabeth Gould, who was responsible for the beautiful illustrations in the Gould collections. Elizabeth was often just known as her husband’s assistant, but as Melissa notes, John Gould’s books wouldn’t have been possible without her artistry and attention to detail.

Saturday was our last day at the BWF but unfortunately our first session The Lace Weaver with Lauren Chater had to be cancelled. Sydney had been experiencing some very wild storms and Lauren was unable to fly out. It was a bit disappointing but I did enjoy reading her debut novel which is set in Estonia during the second world war. I didn’t know much about Estonia’s history, but Lauren’s book brings to life the difficulties faced by the Estonians caught between the Soviets and the Nazis, as well as the Estonian tradition of knitting lace shawls. I thought it was a very fine debut.

We wrapped up our BWF experience with Love YA: Crafting Futures. Part of the BWF program included a Love YA festival held across the river at the Brisbane Square Library. These sessions were free and focused especially on YA. The Crafting Futures session featured Veronica Roth (again!) and Cally Black, whose debut novel, In the Dark Spaces  was published in 2017. The focus of the discussion was “Reflecting on the present through the lens of dark speculative fiction.” A few of the highlights included Veronica’s explanation of how she developed the language for Carve the Mark and the important place that series like Harry Potter have played in the evolution and success of YA. Veronica made us all laugh at how excited she would be to meet J. K. Rowling. We sometimes forget that writers are human too – just like us. They get excited too about meeting the authors who have played an important part in their life, especially during those teenage years. 

Well, that was our BWF experience for this year. Now we have to wait to see the program for next year. 

Happy Reading!

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.

Big Red Bash Toilets – Version 2

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 #5: Lining Up in Birdsville

Birdsville Hotel – Version 2So far, on our Big Red Bash adventure, we have followed The Adventure Way, been sobered by the tragic tale of Burke and Wills and the Dig Tree, and been quietly impressed by the revival of the Betoota Pub. After four days of travelling the outback roads of Queensland, we rolled into Birdsville – two days ahead of schedule! This turned out to be a good thing.

As we drove in past the town sign, we couldn’t help but see 4WDs and caravans pulled up and camped – everywhere! Birdsville is a small outback town – a very small outback town. The population only numbers a little over 100. Except for two events in the year, when it explodes to about … 7,000 (+/-). The Big Red Bash is the first event and the Birdsville Races, held in September, is the second.

With such an influx of visitors the town’s resources are stretched to the max and beyond. You quickly get used to lining up – for fuel, for bread, for pies and just about everything else. When we arrived in Birdsville on Friday, we had very little trouble fuelling up and booking into the Caravan Park. But by Sunday afternoon – it was a different story. The line of incoming vehicles stretched out along the main road, out past the bridge and out of sight. This was the line up for the fuel station. Only thing was – the town had run out of fuel. People just had to wait in the line for the fuel tanker. I think the whole town heard the cheer go up when it finally arrived.

Fuel Line Up – Version 2

As the Big Red Bash only started on Tuesday afternoon, we had a few days to explore Birdsville and socialise with the other Bashers camped in the Caravan Park. One of the good things about a town as small as Birdsville is that you can walk everywhere. In fact, with so many vehicles everywhere, it was probably quicker to walk anyway.

The Bash organisers had set up a registration and merchandise centre in the middle of town. So on Saturday morning we strolled down and joined the line to register, get our wrist bands and entry sticker for the car. Then we lined up to get some merchandise. After coming all this way, we wanted some proof of our adventure, and who knows if we would get the chance to come again. I was impressed at how well it was organised. A display area had been set up where you could look at everything, check sizes and so on, and once you had made your choice, one of the attendants would check things off on a list. Then you lined up with your list to collect the merchandise. Then you joined the line to pay for the merchandise. It was actually pretty streamlined.

Bash sticker – Version 2

Then we took a walk around town and joined the line streaming out of the Birdsville Bakery. Every morning there was a long line of people queueing up for freshly baked bread. This time we were lining up for camel pies.  Yes, I did say “camel” pies.  The Birdsville Bakery has a reputation for their camel pies. Are they really made from camel? Apparently so, and they tasted pretty good.

Birdsville Bakery 2

Of course, you can’t go past the Birdsville Pub. You need to at least step through the doors into the bar and look up. See the hat collection attached to the ceiling! With so many visitors in town, patrons needed to eat in shifts for the evening meal.

Birdsville Pub 2

Another building well worth seeing is the Australian Inland Mission Hospital Museum which has a good display of medical equipment and photos of Birdsville’s history. The hospital was once housed in the Royal Hotel which was built in 1883. The hotel is now heritage-listed and its ruins are pictured below.

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Despite the pressure that a population explosion places on a town like Birdsville, events like the Big Red Bash and the Birdsville Races are critical for the survival of outback towns. Okay, so the town ran out of fuel, and out of bread, and out of pies, but as tourists, we didn’t mind having to line up. It’s all part of the Bash experience and it gives us plenty of time to chat with each other as we wait. Besides, we’ll have to do plenty of lining up out at the Bash. That’s we’re headed next.

 

 

 

 

 

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 #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