I wake to a glorious country morning at the Yelarbon Recreation Grounds. The sun is warm against my skin but the air temperature is crisp enough to warrant a down jacket. I update my blog and cook up a breakfast of pancakes to start the day. The grey nomads (retired people driving caravans around the country) are packing up their rigs ready to race off to the next location. Most are heading back to their homes in the southern states (largely Victoria) now that the winter is coming to a close.
Rather than rushing off, Paul and I take a walk around tiny Yelarbon. We forget the map so can’t find the spinifex walk but do find the strainer post that marked the end of the old dingo fence. The fence used to be the longest fence in the world, running from the far south-west of South Australia up to northern Queensland and back down here to Yelarbon. A nearby plaque notes that the total distance was 8,320km (5,169 miles). The fence no longer exists but there is a new shorter dingo fence that is intended to protect Queensland’s sheep from the native dogs. While out we stop at Granny Murphy’s craft shop where we buy some home made jam drop cookies, a jar of lemon butter and knitted baby jacket for Paul’s friend’s newborn. The town is quiet, peaceful and calm. But the population is decreasing at an alarming rate (down from 400 in 2006 to 230 today) so I can’t help but wonder whether it will go the way of so many other Australian bush towns now that transport is so much more efficient and small stops between large towns no longer as common.
It’s only about 60km to Goondiwindi, the next large regional center along our route. This town is where five highways intersect so it’s a major place for shopping. All the major fashion, hardware and supermarket chains are here. And the distances people travel to come here mean there are also lots of motels and cafes. It’s quite a thriving place with a population of about 5,600 people and a population growth of about 1.4%. This is farming country with cotton being a major player.
The town was also the home of Gunsynd, a grey racehorse that won a record number of major races culminating in third place in the 1972 Melbourne Cup. There’s a small Gunsynd Museum that houses photos and trophies, and a large monument for the grey.
A one hundred year old bridge built in 1915 crosses the McIntyre River, which marks the border between Queensland and New South Wales. The bridge is still in use today despite many floods having gone under her deck. Some interpretive signs show the effects and influence of the river’s floods on the town. My favourite story is one where the pub was still serving beer to patrons who were standing waist deep in water. We cross the bridge, take a photo of us entering New South Wales and cross straight back into Queensland to continue our adventure.
It’s about 1pm by the time we drive out of Goondiwindi (affectionately known to Queenslanders as Gundy). Our adventure takes us further west across the now flat landscape towards ever more remote towns and localities.
You’d miss Toobeah if you blinked. There’s a well maintained community park, pub that allows free camping, general store and old derelict railway station. We stop here for lunch in the park (a healthy salad for those wondering whether all we eat are cakes). As a former railway worker I quite like looking at railway stations and trains so we pretend to wait for the train to come but expect we might be waiting a long time.
We stop briefly in Talwood for a look. The town has a pub, general store, post office and half a dozen cottages that look loved. Someone has also created this creative potted garden near the pub. I just love it and of course want one just like it at home.
After Talwood we cross an imaginary line that separates the fertile soils of the Southern Downs with the arid red dust of the Outback proper. It happens suddenly. One minute we are driving through long dried grass and the next my rear vision mirror is filled with the contrast between black bitumen road and bright red verges. This is the country I love most … the place where skinny cattle roam, tough people work the land, dusty Landcruiser 4WDs dominate the carparks and the rivers run slow and brown (if they run at all).
Road trains own the roads out here. They are huge, heavy and long. The flat roads allow them to cruise along at 100kph (65mph). The drivers cover vast distances and all the road houses are geared towards keeping them comfortable with food, drinks, music CDs and quick service. The road trains are the lifeblood of the bush because without them cattle don’t get to market and goods don’t get delivered.
It’s late afternoon by the time we arrive at the iconic Nindigully Pub. I’ve wanted to come out here for years but never quite made it. We’ve only driven 190km (120 miles) today but we’ve been soaking up the places we pass, rather than racing through. I like this pace of travel.
The Nindigully Pub was first licenced in 1864 and is thought to be the oldest continuously licenced pub in Australia. The age of the pub is not a bad feat given that Europeans only started living in Australia in 1788 and that for most of the early history the country was a convict settlement. There’s nothing here now in Nindigully but the pub and a house. The nearest town is 34km (20 miles) away. But you can camp here for free on the banks of the Moonie River with clean toilets, a walking path, interpretive signs, picnic tables and hot showers that only cost a gold coin ($1 or $2) donation. So the pub is thriving and full almost every night with grey nomads and travelers. Not to mention the carnivals that are hosted here like the pig races, bachelor and spinsters ball, and a camp draft to name a few.
But what I like most is the peace of being on a country river. We share the camping with probably 50 caravans and tents but the space is big and everyone is here for the quiet. We walk along the river and take lots of photos (far too many to share on this blog). The river is relatively high right now but can get much higher and flood the whole camping area. It can also get very very dry here.
Sunset comes and goes, cooling the air and bringing reflections on the river.
It signals time for us to head into the pub for a feed. While the pub is famous for a 5.5kg (12lbs) burger, we opt for a pizza and cob loaf. Paul is keen to order the burger but I can’t face the idea of having it sit in front of me and not being able to eat even 1/4 of it. The pizza is tasty and fresh, as is the cob loaf with dip. We’re the last to leave the pub after tea and retire to the tent to end our third day on the road (and the most consecutive nights Paul has slept in a tent).