SPIRIT OF THE OUTBACK
Step back in time to the days of stage coaches and stockmen – Australia’s original travellers come alive in Longreach
WORDS BY KARYN FANOUS, PHOTOGRAPHY BY KARYN, JOSEPH AND AARON FANOUS
Inspiring stories are at the heart of Longreach. Faced with the challenges of living in this remote region, the Aussie characteristics of perseverance and ingenuity through adversity shine brightly. Vanners who visit this region will be immersed in rich Australian history and culture, from the hard working life of the stockman, to the fascinating beginnings of QANTAS and hear the stories of the Cobb and Co stage coaches – a lifeline to the outback.
The township of Longreach was gazetted in 1887, on the land of the Iningai Aboriginal people. Named after the nearby ‘long reach’ of the Thomson River – where you’ll also find Apex Park, a perfect place to set up camp right beside the river – and set amid vast grass plains, the town lies on the Tropic of Capricorn.
We chose to stay at the Longreach Tourist Park. Its outdoor spas are a novelty and a soothing respite from long days of travelling. The Woolshed restaurant is located conveniently on site, providing a break from cooking. We enjoyed lamb shanks for dinner followed by a game of pool. A variety of entertainers perform in the restaurant during the tourist season (April – October). There’s also a Tour Desk located at reception and all the main attractions are within a five minute drive of the park. We found the best way to experience Longreach was to find a base, like Longreach Tourist Park, unhitch and take day trips to check out all the exciting attractions. However, we couldn’t resist getting a shot with the van with the Boeing 747.
OUR FLYING KANGAROO
In Longreach, you will find the QANTAS Founders’ Museum, located at the site of the company’s original headquarters. This amazing museum was built by an independent, not for profit organisation and registered charity, who have worked tirelessly to build and maintain this world class museum and educate visitors on the heritage of the founder’s and early operations of QANTAS Airways Ltd.
Although the museum is not owned or operated by QANTAS Airways, and receives no recurrent funding, they do enjoy a good working relationship and have benefitted from occasional grants and donations from the company.
Way back in 1919, Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness, two former Australian Flying Corps pilots and Gallipoli veterans, were sent by the Defence Department in a model T Ford motor vehicle to track the route of an air race from Longreach in Queensland to Katherine in the Northern Territory. They were to leave supplies for the competitors along the way. After completing this extremely difficult journey over 2179km in fifty-one days, at times making the first tracks through areas, Fysh wrote, “We were convinced of the important part aircraft would eventually play in transporting mail, passengers and freight over the sparsely populated and practically road-less areas of western and northern Queensland and North Australia.”
This story marks the beginning of Australia’s internationally renowned airline, Qantas. A company that grew from the chance meeting of four men and began as a way to meet the demands for quicker supply deliveries, such as food and mail, to the outback.
This amazing piece of Australian history is commemorated at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach. You can easily spend the best part of a day at this fascinating museum. A full size replica of an Avro 504K bi-plane, the first plane used by QANTAS, dominates the room. There’s also a model T Ford, like the one Fysh and McGinness drove from Longreach to Katherine, a replica DH-50 airplane, and an abundance of information and artefacts relating to the founders and QANTAS’ early days. In addition, there’s a Bristol Fighter simulator – the type of aircraft flown by Fysh and McGinness during World War One, and Lockheed F-35 simulators for visitors to try.
An original QANTAS Empire Airways DC-3 stands majestically outside on the lawn. Nearby, the original QANTAS hangar contains plenty of other interesting aeronautical equipment and memorabilia. On display is a replica of the 1930 QANTAS built DH-61 Giant Moth, flown on the Darwin sector of the London mail service. We were surprised to find a toilet on board! This museum is really great for caravanners who love a bit of true blue Aussie history, you can even take your van right up to the planes they have on display. How’s that for convenience?
Not to be missed is The Jet Tour for a behind-the-scenes look at the Boeing 747-200 Jumbo Jet and a Boeing 707- 138, Australia’s first international jetliner. Getting behind the wheel of the plane kind of felt like getting behind the wheel of our rig. A Catalina Flying Boat is also on display. The 747 Wing Walk is an extra tour that provides the opportunity to sit in the pilots’ seats and walk on the aircraft’s wing – a real thrill for us. We found the museum and tours to be enthralling and such a unique experience!
Across the road, The Australian Stockman’s Hall Of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre stands proudly amongst its gardens. This unique building features curved iron roofs, inspired by silos and water tanks of the outback. It’s the result of another inspiring Australian story.
Back in 1974, a well-known outback artist and stockman named Hugh Sawrey, envisaged creating a memorial to the stockmen and heritage of outback Australia. In conjunction with the legendary R.M. Williams, they raised $12.5 million and Sawrey’s ‘vision splendid’ became a reality.
The centre houses five themed galleries displaying Aboriginal culture, European discovery and settlement, early pastoral life, stockmen, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The adjoining Hugh Sawrey Art Gallery exhibits outback artist’s work. The very popular and entertaining Outback Stockman’s Show provides insights into the life of stock workers and their animals and is a highlight for many.
There’s so much to see and so much information to absorb at the centre. It’s a fantastic tribute to our outback heritage. All travellers will really identify with the early lives of the pioneers, travelling the country, experiencing the outback and living the nomadic lifestyle. Of course we have all the creature comforts in our ‘homes away from home’.
The QANTAS Founder’s Museum is also great for people travelling on a budget, entry fees sit between $20 and $30, with competitive group rates. For those of you planning a tagalong trip, this would be a great attraction.
Back in town, the crack of a whip transports us back in time to pioneering days. Sitting atop a replica Cobb and Co coach, we can hear the thunder of horses’ hooves, the rattle of coach wheels, and dust swirls around us. We are on a Kinnon and Co horse and carriage ride, complete with a cattle dog on the back, travelling along the original Cobb and Co Longreach to Windorah mail route. Some of the original road side stones can still be seen. “Giddy Up!” calls the coach driver as we gallop along the dirt track. Yee-ha!
Cobb and Co is undoubtedly a great Australian story, but the Kinnon and Co story is also inspiring. During 2006, the fifth year of drought for outback Queensland, the Kinnon family created the multi-award winning ‘Kinnon and Co’ company in order to supplement their grazing business. Their aim is to provide you with insights into the inspirations and challenges of the outback. “We love this land, its heritage, its stories and its colourful characters and, together with our team, we enjoy sharing an authentic experience of this amazing place with visitors.”
It really is a delight to see the original caravans in action. These stage coaches travelled vast distances and witnessed so much of Australia’s beautiful outback, you can really see that this is where caravanning started.
On offer are a range of tours that are literally best described as ‘experiences’. We enjoyed the exhilarating Cobb and Co stage coach ride followed by a delicious Devonshire Tea, and felt quite the part when we donned heritage hats to be photographed next to the stage coach. Another option is a visit to historic Nogo Station to enjoy a country style morning tea, a sheep-shearing demonstration, and take part in the ‘station water run’ to check the water supplies for the livestock.
The Thomson River is the life-blood of Longreach, and can be traditionally experienced aboard a historic Kinnon and Co paddle wheeler or the Thomson Princess Riverboat. The sunset cruise is followed by a stockman’s camp-fire dinner, bush poetry, billy tea and damper, and a big-screen presentation about the adventures of ‘Captain Starlight’, an infamous cattle thief.
The Kinnon and Co Station Store is yet another way to step back in time. It’s a treasure-trove of outback products and historic nostalgia, and is housed in a striking historic building, dating back to the 1880’s. “Hats, Horses, History and Hospitality” sums it up well. There’s a magnificent Victorian Royal Mail Cobb and Co Coach that serviced Longreach via Isisford – Ilfracombe in the late 19th century. You’ll also find a classic Australian movie to view, an Old Time Tent Show featuring stockmen, animals and bush theatre, and Old Time Photography sessions. We can recommend indulging in morning tea at the Station Café.
These great Australian stories so vividly portrayed at Longreach are full of true grit and determination. The stark contrast between their humble but visionary beginnings and their impressive success displays the far reaching effects of these legendary Aussie characters. Not only are they the Spirit of the Outback, they are the Spirit of Australia!
Longreach really is one of the best RV destinations Australia has to offer; our accommodation was so central to all the attractions and to have the chance to experience the origins of vanning and the rich, Australia pioneering history was something we’d recommend to everyone.