OUTBACK ADVENTURE: PART 2: TAMBO, BLACKALL AND BARCALDINE

Our road trip was proving to be an amazing adventure! So far everyone was having a ball, laughing, getting on well and still excited that we were actually here doing this and what else was in store for us on the road ahead.

This leg of our trip covers the towns of Tambo, Blackall and Barcaldine. All towns which even though may appear quiet and subdued, have shown great resilience and adaptability when faced with difficult challenges.

Fortunately to this point we hadn’t experienced any car trouble, incidents or accidents. Meeting the odd road train coming in the opposite direction when it was my turn to drive left me sweating bullets but so long as you show them courtesy and respect you’ll have no issues. The kids loved seeing the road trains, counting the eagles flying in the sky and got a wonderful treat when we stopped for a family of emus or a little echidna to cross the road.

showtime

As luck would have it, we arrived in Tambo just in time to join in the fun of their Show Day. The main showground was alive with music, jumping castles, fairy floss vans, kids squealing and having so much fun and adults mingling with friends they haven’t seen for a while. It was wonderful. Our kids were so excited and couldn’t wait to check everything out.

Charlie begged for a go on the miniature truck ride while Mikayla and Seth chose the bungy trampolines. It was such a great family event. Everyone was so laid back and easy-going (have you noticed a theme with the people out here?) they had a fashion parade, whip cracking competition for young and old and a trail bike stunt rider performing tricks on stage much to the admiration of the kids.

The most amazing part for us was when out of nowhere a helicopter flew overhead and started circling around high in the sky in front of the main grandstand. We had no idea what was going on, but the country kids sure did! Off they went, flat stick to the track all excited. Then we saw it, as if Christmas had arrived early, the lollies and chocolates came down from the helicopter like rain. The kids were going crazy. Charlie, Mikayla and Seth took off like a bullet and started loading up their shirts and hats. Those kids were still eating lollies days later. This is the sort of thing that sets country people apart. They know how to have a good time and they do it well. Charlie still talks about the lollies coming from the helicopter now. These are the memories Outback Queensland can make.

We headed to the Tambo Tavern for dinner that night. While chatting with the publican he asked where we were from and soon discovered he was from the same suburb in the Hunter Valley as us! What are the chances of meeting someone in the middle of the outback from our town? Crazy! He was a really great guy and the chicken parma didn’t disappoint either!

Our accommodation that night was at the Tambo Mill Motel and Caravan Park. It was clean and tidy, the shower was nice and hot and it was in a central location on the main street. The kids loved the pool and the gardens were all nicely presented. This was the most expensive place we stayed during our trip ($135 per night for a motel room) but I guess being the main place to stay in the town gives you a monopoly.

The Blackall Woolscour artesian bore

SHEARERS, STUMPS AND SCOURS

Blackall is like a V.I.P who dresses in casual clothes and you’d never guess in a million years what they have achieved or how wealthy they are.

This town is so important to this nation and our history. But it just sits there modestly and humbly doing its thing without any ego or arrogance.

Blackall’s most well-known Son is Jackie Howe. Also known as ‘Australia’s Gun Shearer’. He held the record for the most sheep sheared using blade shears (321 in 7 hours and 40 minutes) which was carried out at Alice Downs Station, Blackall in 1892. You can read more about Jack here. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Labor party in this country and was the proprietor of both the Universal and Barcoo pubs in Blackall.

There are many tributes to Jack Howe throughout Blackall, most notably a life sized statue on the main street. His gravesite is also clearly marked in the local cemetery along with his wife and child. He is also featured in exhibits at The Blackall Woolscour and The Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach.

The statue of Jackie Howe

Another site to drive by and see is the iconic ‘Black Stump’. This spot marks where the original Astro Station was established in 1887 by the Surveyor-General. It was used as part of the survey to fix the position of principal towns extending from Brisbane to Boulia via Roma, Charleville and Blackall. The surveyors would rest their theodolites on the stump instead of a set of legs because it was more stable to hold their large equipment.

The saying ‘Beyond The Black Stump’ is commonly said by Aussies meaning something being in the middle of nowhere. In reality the term was originally coined to refer to any country to the west of Blackall.

The Black Stump

The Blackall Woolscour is another example of this town’s amazing pioneering achievements. Woolscouring means wool washing and the Blackall Woolscour is the only steam – driven scour incorporating a shearing shed left in Australia. It’s open 7 days a week with tours running on the hour, every hour starting at 9am. It really is something worth experiencing.

Admission is $16 for adults, $10 for children or $45 for a family (2 adults and 2 children).

They have a great DVD presentation prior to beginning the tour called ‘The Golden Age of Wool’. It explained the process of woolscouring, talked about sheep and the wool industry and how vital this industry was to Australia and the huge impact it made to our country. Australia truly rode on a sheep’s back in those days.

The tour covered all the stages of wool preparation from the shearing to the washing, raking, drying, baling and exporting. It shows the woolscour operating which was fantastic as you could really understand what it must have been like for the workers in that shed with all the noise and other people running around doing their particular jobs.

The Blackall Woolscour

We stayed at The Blackall Caravan Park which was a block or so back from the main street so was nice and quiet. It was our friends Tania, Bryan and their kids who received the upgrade this time and were given the homestead for the night. It was fantastic for them. It was a full house with lots of space and even chickens in a coop out the back. My Charlie was thrilled to be able to run around and around chasing those poor chickens.

Prices start at $32 per couple for a powered site and $115 – $120 per couple per night for an ensuited cabin.

Charlie’s new mates

The Tree of Knowledge
Image: Outback Qld Tourism

A HISTORY LESSON

Barcaldine or ‘Barcy’ as it’s known by the locals is another town steeped in Australian history. Becoming the main centre for the great shearer’s strike of 1891 which resulted in the birth of the Australian Labor Party and later, also the National Party.

It’s spectacular Tree of Knowledge work of art embraces the original ghost gum stump which was sadly poisoned and is an impressive symbol of endurance, hard work, outback spirit and fairness to all. The position of the tree is where the strike meetings were once held.

We couldn’t pass through Barcaldine without visiting The Australian Workers Heritage Centre. I thought we would give ourselves an hour or two to see this and be on our way… how wrong I was! The quality of displays here were astounding. Set on two hectares of the most tranquil gardens, soothing billabong (complete with turtles) and also including a huge kids’ playground and sandpit the centre was very spread out and well planned. All workers and industries are honoured in the displays. Just when you thought you had seen it all you would then discover an entirely different section which again was beautifully exhibited. We ended up being there for at least four hours, if not more. The best thing was the kids didn’t mind one bit, they happily played and watched the turtles. A great day out and well worth the admission fee.

Admission is $17 Adult, $10 Children (6 -15 yrs), 6 yrs and under are free, $42 for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children).

If you visit Barcaldine and need to stop for lunch one thing you won’t have any trouble finding is a pub! Whether it’s the Globe, Artesian, Union, Shakespeare, Railway or Commercial you’ll be guaranteed a warm welcome. I’ve heard the Shakespeare has a great Chicken Parma but it’s only available at night, we missed out.

Australian Workers Heritage Centre

WORKING HARD FOR OUR COUNTRY

Travelling through Tambo, Blackall and Barcaldine really makes you reflect on our country’s pioneers. How hard they worked to establish Australia and an industry with which our nation can be prosperous. The spirit and drive of these amazing people, their ingenuity when faced with great difficulties and conditions and their fight against unfair treatment.

Even though Charlie is too young to understand it was nice to share these special landmarks and places as a family. I look forward to going back over our photos when he’s older and being able to explain what makes these towns so unique to Australia.

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See what we got up to when we reached Longreach and Winton here.