Jane Sandilands, her daughter Rebecca, and grandsons Daniel (5) and Adam, who would celebrate his third birthday on this holiday, headed off on a road trip to outback Queensland from Sydney, on an adventure full of friendly bushies, red dust, road trains, caravans, the ‘Best Birthday EVER!’ and the art of cracking the stockman’s whip…
There were two main reasons for this trip from Sydney to Longreach, winding our way through inland towns. The first, was for Rebecca to revisit her time in rural Australia, where she had worked as a professional woolclasser and later, was involved in developmental work with graziers and rural communities. The second, was to introduce the boys to some of her own history and the richness and reality of life beyond the city, where they now live.
First stop - overnight stay at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo
We were keen to arrive in Dubbo, our first stop after leaving Sydney, as a kind family friend had shouted us an adventure with the animals at “Zoofari”, a unique overnight stay at Taronga Western Plains Zoo! After an African feast in the Main House (with mocktails for the boys), we boarded a small zebra-striped bus for a zoo tour. Our luxury tents had heated floors and canvas blinds that rolled up to let in the early morning light. This was the perfect start to our outback trip!
Cobar - our first real glimpse of the outback
Our next stop was Cobar, a NSW copper mining town where my daughter had worked some years ago. Just after dawn, Cobar glowed with red dirt: the first real glimpse of the outback and a taste of what was to come on our road trip to Queensland. We had a traditional Aussie pub meal at The Empire Hotel and the boys enjoyed genuine country hospitality as they got busy with the tray of pencils provided and coloured away to enter a rodeo drawing competition!
We saw our first double road trains in Cobar – great roaring monsters that swept past us while we waited at the town’s only set of traffic lights. Soon we would be heading into country where the road trains were even bigger, leaving dramatic dust clouds in their wake. Sometimes, when we had stopped for the boys to stretch their legs at a roadside playground, they would wave to passing truckies from the top of the slide and, if they were lucky, the drivers would sound their horns in reply.
Charleville - the largest town in the southern central outback Queensland
As we crossed the border into Queensland we used notebooks to record the goats, sheep, ducks, one wedgetail eagle and 57 emus we spotted all in one day, en route to Charlevile.
We stopped for the night at Bailey Bar Caravan Park in a quaint old-fashioned cabin with two large bedrooms, bunk beds for the boys, a huge kitchen and friendly neighbours. Adam, whose passion is caravans and trailers, was in heaven! First thing in the morning, the boys were happily occupied spotting strange number plates, watching people packing neatly into the small and ingenious spaces of their vans and receiving a friendly welcome from all.
Daniel, whose primary school is in Sydney’s urban inner west, got a real lesson in outback education at The Charleville School of the Air. While he and his mum, Rebecca, visited the School I played with Adam in one of Charleville’s large shady parks. That night, we visited the Cosmos Centre Observatory, where the amazing roof rolls back to reveal the night sky. No car lights are allowed after 7.30pm and the session lasts until 9.30pm. There are several powerful telescopes, each with a set of small steps and an astronomer on hand to describe what it is you’re looking at, thousands of light years into space, all coloured stars, clusters and, on the night we visited, an excellent view of Saturn!
Four days into the trip, and we were all travelling well. We talked, counted animals, played I Spy and listened to lots of music. We stopped for an hour at a time at shady parks and found local bakeries to supply lamingtons and cupcakes. We even listened to something from my childhood – a CD of Enid Blyton stories – a sharp contrast in landscapes with their small, green English village settings and our Australian outback vistas as seen from the moving car’s windows. I was delighted that my grandsons loved Enid Blyton – the stories’ calm rhythms soothed Adam and the adventures of the Famous Five (where the children are always smarter than the adults!) enthralled Daniel.
Blackall - a visit toJackie Howe Statue, Blackall Woolscour and Aquatic Centre
Before our trip, Rebecca had contacted Blackall Primary School to ask if Daniel could be included in their prep class for a day, while she attended a conference in the town for rural, remote and regional women.
The school kindly arranged to facilitate his visit, and he took along with him a digital story about his own city school to share with his new classmates. The class was treated to an excursion to Ram Park, which celebrates the area’s heritage as a famous wool growing region, and the school’s young whip cracking team put on a dazzling display. Daniel was hooked! From then on, he resolved to get a stockwhip of his own and – most importantly – to learn to crack it!
Together, we all explored Blackall’s marvellous sculpture trail, admired the statue of famous shearer Jackie Howe, visited the Blackall Woolscour and played and swam in the glamorous Aquatic Centre.
Longreach - our outback destination
On arrival at our destination, we settled into another caravan park – this time with a villa set in a prime spot for Adam to lean on the verandah rails and watch the caravans arrive in the mid-afternoon.
Adam turned three on our first morning there, and as he looked out at the sea of tents and caravans, then at the Swiss Roll with the ‘3’ candle on top, he pronounced this the ‘best birthday EVER!’
We spent several hours at the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, learning about Australia’s outback history and at the Royal Flying Doctor Service exhibit, we sat in the pilot’s seat and tracked flights on the map. Outside, on tiered seats in the shade, we marvelled at horsebreaker and stockman, Lochie Cossor, as he expertly worked dogs and horses in The Outback Stockman’s Show. Funny, clever and absorbing, we all loved it – and Daniel finally got his own stockwhip (from the shop) and was treated to a quick lesson in making it crack, from an old-timer in Longreach – “Son, it’s all in the wrist”, and Daniel, armed with that invaluable bushie’s tip, practised each and every time we stopped at a park, on the long drive back to the city.