Thanks to the night of cycling viewing we woke up a little bit later than planned and therefore had to get ready at speed and drive to the QANTAS Founders Museum which we were both really looking forward to. We’d decided that if we were going to do it we might as well do it properly so we booked entry to the museum, a guided walk of the airpark, and the 747 wing walk, when in Rome look at as many planes as humanly possible. We started off with the museum which was an absolutely fascinating exploration of the history of the airline. The large room was filled with information boards and artifacts that allowed visitors to walk through the creation of the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services as well as learn about the founding members, the aircraft they purchased, the issues they had with receiving government funding, and I discovered it was founded on my birthday. I’d thought that I would be bored (not being a huge fan of planes) but it was so interesting, honestly, the story was incredible and if you’re not familiar with it I’d strongly recommend either buying one of the many books written on the subject or read about it on google.
Once we had finished in the museum we had enough time for a scone and a coffee in the cafe before we were called to go into the airpark. If you only do one thing in Longreach do this! Our guide took us outside and we walked through a number of planes, they were all different from a frankly terrifying machine that carried 70 people but needed a navigator who would look at the stars through a little window in the roof near the cockpit to ensure the plane was traveling in the right direction, to the amazing 747, to a fully customised private jet complete with gold plated seatbelt buckles and a bedroom with a queen bed.
Our final activity, directly following the airpark was the wing walk, the only place in the world where you can step onto the wing of a 747. We went on the tour with one other guy and the same guide that had taken us around the other planes. Rather than going straight to the wing we were taken into the cockpit and spent 20 minutes learning about the different knobs and dials as well as the roles of the staff that would have worked there. We followed the guide back down the stairs into the main part of the plane, put on some very gratuitous safety harnesses, and then walked out and onto the wing. It was a cool experience, my favourite part was when the guide got us to all jump at the same time so we could see the flex of the wing tip.
We left Longreach in the afternoon with a plan to stop in Barcaldine for the night. We were going to drive flat out to the campsite but on the way through a little town called Ilfracombe we saw a sign for a bottle and gun display. Obviously, we were both very intrigued by this bizarre combination of items so we stopped and went into a room that was completely full of bottles, and another room that was floor to ceiling covered in guns with a Nazi flag hanging on the wall. Our last stop for the day was The Tree of Knowledge, the remnants of the original ghost gum where the 1891 Shearer’s Strike occured which ultimately turned into the Australian Labor Party. In 2006 the tree mysteriously died by poisoning but was resurrected as part of a 5 million dollar sculptural art piece that opened in 2009. Matt and I were both really impressed with how the tree had been reborn, under the glass at your feet you can view the root system while overhead hundreds of wooden planks gently shift in the breeze and clank together like the biggest wooden windchime that has ever existed.
The next morning we drove into the town of Blackall and had a look around the main street. We’ve become very slack of late with our pre arrival research so we had no idea what there was to do or where we’d be staying so naturally, our first stop was the combined information center/library. The woman behind the desk was lovely and soon we had a pass to camp next to the river, a town map, and advice to see the main attraction, The Blackall Woolscour. I called the woolscour and booked in for the 1.30pm tour, while we waited we had a coffee, some delicious food from the bakery, found the second black stump of the trip and wandered around the very pleasant little town. I know absolutely nothing about sheep farming or wool so I was quite surprised at the size and complexity of the scour when we rolled into the car park. Our tour started with a video that explained the wool boom and the phrase “Australia rides on the sheep’s back”. When that ended we were introduced to our tour guide who was in the middle of a cup of tea and not at all keen to take us, in the end, he begrudgingly got up and took us on one of the most amusing tours we’ve done. The woolscour was surprisingly interesting, both historically and mechanically but honestly the tour guide absolutely made the place for us. He was probably 75 years old and just about as ocker as you could get, his sense of humor was hilarious and we had a great time. At the end of the tour it was getting pretty warm so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the public pool.
Our plan for Wednesday was to cruise down the road to Tambo and spend the night at their free camp but we’d woken up early and found ourselves parking up at 9am. We popped in to see the wonderful teddies and then went down to the visitor center where we picked up a free booklet that took us on a historical walk around the town. By the time we’d finished exploring we had only killed another 2.5 hours and we really didn’t feel like sitting around on our bums until night so we decided to keep on going with a new plan to stop in Augathella for the night. Well, we reached the meat ant capital of Australia and were both so uninspired we opted to keep on heading south to Charleville. We ended up finding a brilliant little caravan park on the outside of town called the Charleville Bush Caravan Park where we met the owners Graham and Deb. It was a very welcoming place and we were soon sitting at the communal fire pit, enjoying fresh damper while Graham told us all about Lake Eyre.
The next day Graham encouraged us to join him on his 2 hour tour of the town and at $15pp it was hard to say no. The tour was a bit hit and miss for me but not in a way that left us feeling disappointed we needed something to do to fill in the day and it certainly did that but the format was bizarre. We looked at things like the kindergarten, and power poles while Graham handed out photos from the last major flooding event and explained that the old people in the town were now scared of rain. He also kept stopping at houses that were for sale and asking us to guess how much they cost before telling us and then explaining all the good things about each property…Matt and I were wondering if he might have got a commission from the real estate agents if he managed to sell one. We then went to the town weir and had a 15-minute explanation on how that functioned, the tour was very strange. During the afternoon we popped into town to look at the botanical garden and some of the historic buildings that were missed while we learned you could buy a 2 bedroom house with a nice garden for $200,000. I kept an anxious eye on the weather as we’d booked in for an astronomy tour and the clouds looked like they’d be hanging around for the rest of the day. Fortunately, they dispersed just in time and we were able to take our seats at the Cosmos Centre and enjoy the million-star views. Matt and I both agreed that the highlight was looking through the telescope at Jupiter and Saturn to see the moons/colours and rings respectively, it was beautiful.
We were a bit slow to get going the next day as our slightly late night caused us both to sleep in but we had a bit of time to kill before the WWII Secret Base museum opened. Located at the airport in an old hanger the museum explained how the Australian and American forces collaborated in Charleville during world war two and hid secret technology from the enemy side. It is currently undergoing a rebuild so the first section was much more modern than the second but it is due for completion at the end of this year so hopefully if you decided to go there it will be finished by the time you arrive. Our final activity was to visit the bilby centre which my mum had recommended that we go and see months ago. It’s directly next to the visitor information section in the train station so it was very easy to find. The tour started with a presentation about bilbies, a question session, and then we were let into the bilby house where we saw a bilby family bouncing around. They were so cute!
We left Charleville and rather than continuing to travel south we turned east stopping for the night beside a beautiful river near the small town of Mitchell.
Lloyd Jones Weir – Just outside the town this small but peaceful campground has clean toilets, picnic tables, and an excess of turtles. We were very amused by the pretend grave for “people that steal toilet paper”. There is a couple of long-term campers set up here but they were friendly and considerate. $5pn – 6/10.
Barcoo River Camping Area – Thanks to Blackall for setting up this lovely little camp. Public toilets a short walk away and free showers in the amenities block in the main street of the town. $10pn – 7/10.
Charleville Bush Caravan Park – The perfect caravan park, awesome hosts, free information talks and damper in the evening, communal fire pit, good washing machine, great showers and toilets, and really nice fellow campers. $25pn – 9/10.
Fishermans Rest – There are two campsites in Mitchell and this is by far the better one. It’s quieter, more secluded and the river is absolutely beautiful, bring your bug spray though they were thick. $Free – 7/10.