My father always used to explain Australia in terms of layers. This Bill’s view of Australia and it goes like this – we all live in one of these:
- The City
- The Bush
- Beyond the Black Stump
- The Never, Never
As you can imagine most Australians live within 100 kms of the east coast of the continent. This he would always refer to as the City. He then said that anyone who lived between 101 kms and 400 kms was “The Bush”. Yep, this is where I grew up.
Next came “Beyond the Black Stump” which is generally between 401 kms and 700 kms from the coast.
Dad always called it the Never, Never, although many might refer to it as the Outback. This is mostly uninhabitable desert and scrub, a place of wild camels, horses, and mobs of kangaroo’s roam freely.
I asked him once why he called it the Never, Neve and not the Outback as many referred to it as. His was a quintessential Dad response “cos you never, never want to go there”. Enough said! 🙌🏼 ❤️
The most striking part of the Never, Never is that it’s rarely visited because of the isolation, difficult terrain with the likelihood of becoming lost and dying if you venture too far off the main roads.
Not only is the weather inclement (up to 50C in the long summers), but with little water and shade from the unrelenting heat travellers can become disoriented and perish if they break down.
Often defined by rugged and unending landscapes, it’s both beautiful and terrifyingly dangerous. ❤️
Even for my road trip I was never going to venture into the Never, Never.
To do so I would have needed a whole new level of preparedness – with extra fuel, tyres, traction boards for getting out of sandy bogs, not to mention a significant amount of water, food stocks and most importantly a satellite phone in case of emergencies.
Once you’re out that far all bets are off.
I was playing it safe and keeping to the relative safety of the A4 or Capricorn Highway, which interestingly was called Route 66 in its prior life for this leg of my journey.
This trip was all about discovering the heart of Australia and visiting a place that few venture, I was headed to beyond the Black Stump…
Strangely, the drive wasn’t exactly what I’d expected on my drive from Rockhampton out to Longreach which is some 700 kms west as the crow flies.
As I mentioned last week in my essay, Longreach straddles the Tropic of Capricorn as does Rockhampton.
However, that is where the similarities end!
I drove from the humidity of the coastal tropical environment through a series of low ranges (mountains) to the heat of the plains.
Interestingly, the plains were not what I had expected.
My mental image was of a dry, desolate wasteland of red sand and mirages for as far as the eye could see.
Sure, there were moments that had a touch of this, but for the most part and because of the inordinate amount of rain they’ve received over the past six weeks that the landscape had been transformed into a beautiful grassland which was reminiscent of the farmland of my childhood. 🙌🏼
Lush and fertile is the only way I can describe it, desert flowers surrounded by a carpet of thick green and waving foot high grass. Perfect for cattle grazing! ❤️
As I made my way along the road to Longreach, there was much that was alive in this landscape. I passed many large cattle stations along the route with herds of Brahman cattle, mobs of wild kangaroos and the occasional herd of wild horses all visible from the road.
An unfortunate side effect to this was multitude of dead kangaroos by the side of the road, often being devoured by birds of prey – crows, and hawks.
I indeed had a close call with a hawk that was too slow to take off from the carcass of a kangaroo that it was hungrily tearing apart with its beak. As I maneuvered my way around the carcass the hawk lazily flew off, only to fly directly into my windscreen.
It hit with a wicked thump and he disappeared with a cloud of brown feathers as he skidded off the windscreen and straight up into the air. I didn’t kill him, but definitely injured his pride and took out a few feathers along the way… 😳
Clearly, one thing about driving this road is that you had to be extremely careful and be ready for absolutely anything to cross the road in front of you including snakes and goannas (of which there were many by the way).
I left Rockhampton at 24C (75F) around 6:00 am, and arrived into Longreach around 3:00 pm where the temperature gauge was hitting 39C (102F), but what really struck me was the hot dry wind blowing hard out of the western desert.
It felt like 45C at least, and a blast furnace by any other name… 🥵
Unfortunately, most things were closed including the QANTAS museum, which I knew in advance of my trip but worth the drive just to say that I’d been to Longreach and that now I could check it off my long list of places I’d always wanted to visit.
My afternoon shuttled between long draughts of ice-cold water from my fridge that I installed in the truck and walking the streets with my camera to check out the architecture.
It felt like a scene out of an old western… not a soul stirred as I explored. Only the occasional car or truck making its way around the deserted streets.
Welcome to Longreach!
One of the few places open was the Happy Valley Chinese Restaurant so that night I ordered take away and went back to my accommodations (rustic as they were). The food was awesome! ❤️❤️
Join me next week as I tackle the next leg of my journey and discover the elusive “Black Stump”.