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Outback Queensland: Longreach to Mt. Isa

AUSTRALIA | Monday, 4 June 2012 | Views [7190]

"Big Sky," Outback Queensland

As we drive through Queensland's Outback I wonder where are all of the animals.  Except for the "Jump-ups," those low mesas, and the hills between Cloncurry and Mt. Isa, this could be the savannah of the Serengeti.  Or Kenya's Masai Mara.  But the vast herds of wildebeest and zebras, the prowling lions and the soaring vultures are missing.  But there are wild camels, originally from Afghanistan, used during construction of the railroads.

From Longreach to Winton, through Cloncurry to Mt. Isa, this is flat, open ranchland, though few cattle and fewer sheep are seen.  Only flocks of whistling kites break the monotony.  Ranches - stations as they are called here - are nearly incomprehensible in size.  We heard tell of one station that encompasses 7,500 square kilometers, more than 1.5 million acres if that is any easier to imagine.

I don't have what it takes to make it in the Outback.  Few do.  "Self-sufficient" best describes stockmen (Aussie cowboys) and their families.  When your nearest neighbor is two-hours away by rough road, borrowing a cup of sugar isn't in the cards.  Medicine and even food are delivered by the postman on his twice-a-week rounds.  Stockmen must be "jacks-of-all-trades," able to fix anything that breaks.

Medical care is provided by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, a few dedicated physicians who fly to remote locations to treat the sick.  Every month or so they show up to provide basic medical treatments to patients who have traveled hundreds of kilometers or more to receive care.  Education comes courtesy of the School of the Air.  Not flying school buses but remote learning using the mail, and more recently the Internet.  Face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) contact is maintained by radio.

Even the towns have learned to make the best of what they have.  Tourism in Longreach centers on the Qantas Air Museum and the Stockmen Hall of Fame.  Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service actually began in Winton but Longreach got the museum by virtue of actually having an airfield.  Thus deprived, Winton capitalizes on Waltzing Matilda, Banjo Patterson's unofficial Australian anthem, which was written and first performed in Winton.  One resident admits that all Australia owns the song but the people of Winton take care of it for them.

Heading north from Winton there is a billboard announcing McDonalds, only 488 km away in Mt. Isa.  Just hope you don't have to pee, too!  Mt. Isa was the end of the road for us.  Beyond it to the west is the real Outback of the Northern Territories, "Back of Beyond," and either Darwin or Alice Springs.  Mt. Isa is a mining town, rich in copper, silver, zinc and lead.  After all those empty miles, it seems like a good place to stop for a while.  There are real supermarkets and a museum highlighting the fossil finds at Stoneleigh Fossil Site, just 250 km (that's right!) out of town, only 50 km of which are paved.  We decided seeing the site "in situ" wasn't worth the effort and concentrated on the extinct marsupial fossils in the museum.


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