Category Archives: Aboriginal connection

Australian Adventure 2017 – QLD – Beyond the Black Stump

May 2017

Labor Federation Memorial Blackall

Blackall and Barcaldine, with their strong Labor and union connections are two places I’ve always wanted to visit. And here we are! I’m so excited in Blackall to see the Labor Federation Memorial, representing the first meeting that led to the first Shearers’ Union in 1886, the group that eventually became the Australian Labor Party.

Jack Howe – Legendary Shearer

There’s also a statue of Jack Howe, who famously set two shearing records in 1892 – one with blade shears and the other with mechanical shears. His record of shearing 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 minutes with blade shears has never been broken, while his record of 237 sheep with mechanical shears stood for 58 years. My family’s crest features a pair of shears so I feel a certain affinity with shearers!

Also in Blackall is the Black Stump memorial representing the observation site surveyors used to establish a principal meridian passing through the town to gain a more accurate basis for maps of Queensland. Country to the west was known as ‘Beyond the Black Stump’, another phrase every Australian will recognise. A fossilised tree stump is also on display in the main street and could apparently be anywhere from 1 to 225 million years old.

The (almost) free campsite along the (dry!) Tambo River was hugely popular and very well managed. We found Blackall a lovely, friendly town but all too soon moved on to Barcaldine to continue our exploration of the history and traditions of Australian workers.

The Tree of Knowledge

Barcaldine, on the Barcoo River, was founded in the 1886 when the rail line extended west from Rockhampton, eventually going all the way to Longreach. It is home to the inspirational Tree of Knowledge, used as a meeting place during the 1891 Shearers’ Strike and the reputed birth place of the labour movement in Australia. The 180 year old ghost gum was mysteriously poisoned in 2006 but has since been preserved and is now protected by an award-winning timber structure.


IMG_6351I’m keen to see the Australian Workers Heritage Centre in Barcaldine, our only national and ongoing tribute to the rich heritage and traditions of all working Australians. It’s full of fascinating displays and exhibitions including a train station, police watch house, one-teacher school and the AWU Shearers’ Hall. I was disappointed that some of the displays looked somewhat tired and worn, but fascinated nevertheless, by all the detail and personal stories.

It was near Balcaldine that Australia’s Great Artesian Basin was first successfully tapped in the 1880s, greatly enhancing the viability of the town. We’re amazed by the extent to which outback Australia depends on Artesian water.

Barcaldine proves to be one of our most friendly camping experiences. A country and western singer entertained us each night (not my favourite style but fun anyway!). And the camp ground manager offered delicious-smelling authentic Chinese takeaway on Friday and Saturday nights (sadly not GF).

Not far up the road we come across an unexpected gem at Ilfracombe. Lining the road is a beautifully presented long display of historical machinery and antique farm equipment. Known as The Great Machinery Mile, it’s too good to miss!IMG_6360

Next stop is Longreach, where the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame has long been on must-visit list. We check in to another (almost) free campsite run by a local council, this time on the Thomson River, and set off to explore. We decide to leave the Hall of Fame until morning and squeeze in the Qantas Founders Museum first.  This museum explains the outback story of the founding of Qantas, which soon became an international airline, and we particularly enjoy the very informative introductory film. Gary is disappointed there isn’t a four-engine Constellation on display as he’d expected, and I’m disappointed because, no matter how hard I try, I’m unable to control the flight simulator and actually fly once I’ve taken off!

IMG_6400Opened by the Queen in 1988, the Stockman’s Hall of Fame is a tribute to the pioneering stockmen and women of Australia. Housed in a majestic building designed by Feiko Bouman are fabulous displays with loads of information about many aspects of outback life and details of all the major stock routes criss-crossing the country. Families like the Duracks are well represented.

IMG_6403What is missing for me is more information about the role of Aboriginal stockmen and their families who played such a vital role, and some recognition that they were the original owners and inhabitants of the land.

Needless to say, these last few days have been a highlight of the trip for me, but there’s more to come with Winton and Dinosaur Land!




Australian Adventure 2017 – NSW to QLD

May 2017

From Broken Hill we head east along the Barrier Highway via Wilcannia to Cobar.

IMG_6271We stop for lunch and stroll along the Darling River at the historic port town of Wilcannia.  The area has been home to the Baarkindji people for over 40,000 years and it is still has a large Aboriginal population. In the past the Government dumped many people from  other tribes here as well, causing inevitable friction, but there’s no justification for travellers’ fears that it’s not a safe, and indeed a lovely, place to stop.

IMG_6300 (2)Kangaroos, emus and wild goats abound along the road and there’s more road kill than we’ve ever seen. Scavenger birds are our only companions at the Meadow Glen bushland rest area where we freeze at night before pushing on.

A quick squizz at Cobar, where the Heritage Centre gives a cursory nod to the traditional Aboriginal owners before describing the discovery of copper in 1870 which brought great wealth to the region. The Great Cobar Copper Mine closed in 1919 but gold has been mined in the area from the 1930s up to the present day.

Fred Hollows grave

Hurray! It’s time to turn left (and north!) onto the Kidman Way and by lunchtime we’re in Bourke, the once-thriving port on the Darling River, 1,450kms from the Junction. Every Australian knows the saying at the ‘Back of Bourke’ and here we are!

My first priority is to visit the grave of Fred Hollows, the renowned ophthalmologist who worked tirelessly to end avoidable blindness around the world, and one of my all-time heroes.

Once again we see an old wharf where paddle steamers replaced local Aboriginal canoes by the 1850s. We enjoy the magnificent river gums one last time before leaving the Darling River behind to get to Cunnamulla for the night.

We’re in Queensland!








Australian Adventure 2017 – NSW

Backtracking to May 2017!

Neither of us had previously explored Broken Hill so we agree to a sizeable detour. Great decision!

The Murray-Darling Junction

So, we plot a route along the Murray and Darling Rivers via Wentworth, Pooncarie and Menindee. The confluence of these major river systems at Wentworth is always a big draw-card for me. But although we stop for a look around the old wharf, the town and along the rivers, we leave before I realise there’s an area of outstanding Aboriginal significance at nearby Thegoa Lagoon. It’s on the list for next time.

Further along the Darling, Pooncarie is a delightfully secluded camping spot with a local pub nearby. In its heyday, Pooncarie was a thriving port town with wool-laden paddle steamers heading for South Australia. The old wharf site is all that remains. Unlike in many other places we visit, long Aboriginal association with the area is acknowledged in the signage.

Having visited Menindee years ago with my brother I’m keen to return. This was the first town built on the Darling River and a stop for Burke and Wills on their fateful journey from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria (Camp XXXIV) in 1860-61.

Maiden’s Hotel is still there but Menindee’s changed, the Menindee Lakes somehow less attractive, and the wildlife largely missing. Protest signs indicate excessive water use as the cause. We head on to a free camp at Lake Pamamaroo, a great spot with a glorious sunset! We’re totally fascinated by a group of campers travelling with Chamberlain tractors who seem to be following a similar route to ours and often pull in to the same campsites.

Back to the 1950s at Bell’s Milk Bar

Broken Hill, the Silver City is Australia’s quintessential mining town, visible for miles as we head west. The impressive 7.5km-long, 1.6km-deep Line of Lode running through Broken Hill has produced 300 million metric tons of ore and generated over $100 billion in the last 125 years, and it’s still going. Our favourite mining museum is White’s, established by a now elderly couple many years ago. Well past retirement age, they still run the best, most informative tour imaginable of their ‘walk-in-mine’, the crushed mineral collage of art works and extensive models in their densely packed displays. We’re far from disappointed by this handy tip from ex-locals, who also recommended Bells Milk Bar, a true 1950s experience where lime spiders are the order of the day.

Despite the chilly weather the caravan park is packed full of old timers. (We’re introduced to men in shorts and long socks wheeling their portable loos to the dump, a sight often repeated on our travels). We’ve become part of the exodus from the southern states to ‘the north’ for winter, and Broken Hill is a major outback crossroads with people flocking in from everywhere. Thanks at least in part to tourism, the town seems less down at heel and livelier than we anticipated, given its long-past glory days.

We visited several of Broken Hill’s +20 art galleries including Pro Hart’s, very commercial, but with a certain 1970s appeal. In contrast, Jack Absalom’s extensive gallery is a quiet haven of calm. As well as countless paintings reflecting his lifetime of travel throughout Australia, his extensive private opal collection is the best in the country and it’s beautifully displayed. Now in his 90th year, Jack often comes out and chats to visitors, as he does with us.

IMG_6192In 1993 Broken Hill hosted a Symposium to add sculpture to its art culture. 53 tons of sandstone were transported from Wilcannia to a hilltop in the Living Desert Reserve, just out of town in the beautiful Barrier Ranges. Internationally acclaimed sculptors created a magnificent series of sculptures, sadly not finished due to subsequent political infighting, but nevertheless providing a breathtaking display. We love it so much during our morning visit that we return at sunset.

Prospecting in the Barrier Ranges brought discoveries of silver and lead not only in Broken Hill but also around the historic mining town of Silverton, 26 kilometres west. This town briefly took off but was soon overshadowed by Broken Hill and now has a population under 60. We join the many tourists and spend an interesting day exploring the old mine, the fabulous museum, quirky galleries and packed pub. You’ll recognise the Hotel in numerous films and TV shows, think A Town Like Alice or Mad Max.

Broken Hill’s rich mining history and the culture of active trade unionism is celebrated by the Trades Hall building, built in 1905, the first privately owned such building in the Southern Hemisphere. Harder to find are significant references to the area’s original inhabitants except at the Living Desert Reserve. Mutawintji, 130km north east of Broken Hill has some of the best Aboriginal art in NSW, but we didn’t go there (despite my wishes!). Next time!

We head off to warmer climes.

Australian Adventure 2017 – Victoria

Backtracking to the start of our journey up north in 2017. Working solely on my iPad to write my blog while we were away proved too difficult for my limited skills and the lack of reliable internet connections!

At last our Australian adventure has begun! On Friday 28 April we left our chilly, drizzly home heading west towards the Coorong in South Australia. With windscreen wipers working overtime and a pretty dismal weather forecast we soon changed our heading to north towards the Murray instead.

imageWe take the Henty highway making camp in a state park on the river in Cavendish, just west of the Grampians. The rickety old toilet and shower blocks are full of cobwebs, but I’m told the men’s is well appointed with table and chairs as well as excellent amenities. Gary still reckons they’re among the best of the trip. We’re guessing they double up as an umpires’ room as we’re next to a sizeable sports ground. Maybe there aren’t any female umpires – I’m afraid our facilities were nothing to rave about.

All the proceeds from this community run campground go towards providing play equipment for the local youngsters. We make good use of the camp kitchen and enjoy our first campfire while we contemplate the starry sky and chat to a group of English backpackers.

Lake Lascelles at Hopetoun is our second stop. Also run by volunteers from the local community, this 4.5 star campsite comes with the lot – including numerous fireplaces and a couple of amenities blocks as well as a surfeit of spiders. Free camping is encouraged right around the lake and there are also a handful of powered sites. The Aboriginal heritage of the area is well represented pictorially and on a series of totem poles.

Yarriambiack Shire in Northwest Victoria is home to some amazing Silo Art and we make a few detours to take them in, even staying an extra day. They are fantastic and bring in welcome tourists to the local towns.

IMG_6030In Mildura at the Apex Caravan Park on the Murray River we score a riverside spot. I’ve always loved river red gums and here these magnificent old trees are spectacular. We see an old paddle steamer going through Lock 11 (apparently the Murray has some 26 locks) and check out the Murray Weir disgorging tons of water. There’s plenty of history here, but little mention of the area’s Indigenous past.  All the official tourist attractions seem to be about the Caffey brothers who opened up the area, built homesteads and locks and introduced European farming methods with little regard to the original inhabitants.



Townsville Street Art

Kennie Deaner Untitled 2014

Our oldest grandson proudly pointed out a huge sugar glider on one wall and a turtle riding on a croc’s back on another as we cruised the streets of Townsville over Christmas. Then at the Perc Tucker Gallery we spotted a map outlining a street art walking tour. At just over a kilometre the walk was the ideal length for me with my slowly-healing broken foot. This is just a sample of the fabulously inspiring work we saw. 

ROA untitled – Sugar Glider 2015
ROA untitled Croc and Turtle 2015
ROA untitled Goanna 2015
The Run Collective – Keep Running Cathy Freeman 2016
Garth Jankovic and Nicky Bidju-Pryor – Girroogul and the Soap Tree 2016
Haha – Faces of Townsville 2015
Lee Harnden – The Smizler 2014

Adnate – Wulgurukaba and Bindal 2016