Experience a stockman’s outback
For an authentic and luxury outback camping experience, look no further than Longreach.
RICHARD KINNON IS A Longreach horse breeder and cattle farmer who has survived hard times. After eight years of drought he nearly lost everything and admits his life on the land was all but over.
“It nearly finished us,” he says as he stokes the campfire. “I had never been to school – I’d just done the School of the Air but we had to had to diversify to survive,” he says.
We’re on the banks of the Thomson River – a beautiful, tranquil spot, totally isolated, apart from the fact that Richard’s wife Maurise was there to greet us. She and her team have established a special campsite. Swags, complete with quality linen, resting atop stretcher beds. Three long tables are set for dinner along the river bank with lanterns and bouquets of gum leaves hanging overhead.
The campfire is roaring and the chef is already preparing our gourmet feast in a camp oven already in the coals.
Much to our surprise an antique wash basin and mirror are set up under a tree and to our quiet relief, there, hidden behind another tree, is the latest model (flushing!) port-a-loo, so we will be spared the humiliation of disappearing into the bush with a shovel.
Outback transport in Queensland
No stone has been left unturned by these hardy western Queenslanders to provide comfort for softies from the city. Kinnon & Co is a successful range of tourism businesses, employing many Longreach locals, which Richard and Maurise and their family have created to offset the more precarious farming.
Their flagship is the Station Store – a converted heritage hotel in the heart of Longreach, where tourists can buy country crafts, leather goods, big country hats and stockmen’s boots. They can also experience country style hospitality and cooking at Richard’s colonial style cafe with his teenage daughter, Abigail, proudly providing the best coffee in town.
They also owns Billabong Boat Cruises – a paddlesteamer that conducts daily cruises up the Thomson River and has recently started a show depicting the life and times of local outlaw Captain Starlight, themed on an old time Australian tent show complete with performing animals. And Richard has built a beautiful 1920s style replica Cobb & Co coach, with his teenage sons, Lane and Jeremy, helping with it and its four horses.
The Cobb & Co rides have proved an absolute winner with tourists, with Richard running up to seven trips a day in peak season, thrilling tourists with a gallop through the bush, recreating the way pioneers moved around the Outback.
Last year his team of 24 horses racked up 22,000km – going through a tonne of horseshoes as they made every trip accompanied by the loyal family cattle dog, Rusty.
For the chance to go bush with an experienced stockman, Richard hosts the ultimate Outback Clancy’s Campout for those who have neither the required skills or desire to go without certain city comforts. He believes the experience is best suited to a group of 10 to 14, as a certain cohesion and atmosphere is required to maximise the adventure.
A day on the coach in Longreach
IN 30 DEGREE HEAT, the coach took our group through the wide streets of Longreach and onto a bush track where we had the thrill of galloping towards our destination. When we arrived the young boys efficiently attended to the horses and helped those who wanted to fish.
Now as we enjoy the campfire, the boys quietly perform their chores. They are home schooled and they split their time between the Longreach home and family properties. Their school day starts at 6am with just 10 minutes for “smoko” (morning tea) so they are finished by lunch time and can turn their attention to horses and dogs and other outdoor pursuits.
When dinner arrives it is astonishing – a three course feast of local produce served straight from the coals and eaten by lantern light. It’s delicious and atmospheric – and a far cry from the usual charred sausages or baked beans usually associated with camp cooking.
Full to the gills, we retire to the comfy seats around the blazing fire and spend the rest of the night being entertained by the local bush poets.
“Scotty the barefoot bush poet” and Milton, another yarnspinner, duel good naturedly with each other, taking it in turns to tell tall tales and recite bush ballads, interspersed with a musical interlude by local wag Graham who is ready with a joke and a guitar. It’s relaxed and devoid of any scripted, cheesy, cliched, forced “Australiana” ladled out to amuse the tourists.
The night becomes cold and as we finish our billy tea we leave the warmth of the campfire, wondering how we will fare in our swags. They are in fact incredibly warm – and even comfortable! It’s then I realise the entertainment for the night is not over.
The sky is filled with millions of brilliant stars putting on a show of their own. It is the perfect end to the night. I am reluctant to close my eyes, and feel privileged to have experienced something special.
Longreach: A town of history
THE CENTRAL WESTERN QUEENSLAND town of Longreach is a place steeped in Australian history, blessed with great beauty and a sublime hot, dry climate. It’s where Qantas was founded in 1921, which led to the establishment of the legendary Royal Flying Doctor Service.
It’s home to the Longreach School of the Air, as well as the Australian Stockmen’s Hall of Fame and is just one town away from Winton, where Banjo Patterson wrote Waltzing Matilda.
But it certainly is a hike from the coast – 700km inland from Rockhampton and a (nearly) 24-hour overnight 1,170 km train trip from Brisbane. The Spirit of the Outback journey is reportedly one of the great rail adventures to be had, but most people choose the convenience of air travel.
Recent rain has seen the countryside emerge triumphant from drought and it’s experiencing its best season in two or three decades after two good wet seasons. This presents an ideal opportunity to visit and see outback Queensland in full bloom, with desert transformed into grass and wildlife booming.
Roads that were affected by floods have been repaired and locals say conditions in the outback are the best in living memory. If you’ve ever hankered to take the plunge and head west, it’s the perfect time.
Bookings are essential for Clancy’s Campout on the Thomson, as numbers are strictly limited (there’s only one stagecoach).
Prices valid to October 30, 2010: Adult/Concession: from $198. Children: $99 – nine to 13 years (0 to eight years not catered for).
Gallop Thru the Scrub tours leave the Station Store every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Prices: Adult from $49 full package/from $45 without optional extras. Children: $29 for five to 13 years; $25 without optional extras; $7.50 for three to four year-olds. Infants: FOC morning tea and afternoon tea are included in the day tour.
For all bookings call the Longreach Travel Centre on (07) 4658-1776.
The Spirit of the Outback travels from Brisbane to Longreach and Qantas flies from Brisbane to Longreach.
* The writer was a guest of Tourism Queensland.