Monday, 17 June 2013

Emerald to Winton

The road runs west between Emerald and Longreach and we felt pleased to be heading in this direction if only to gain a little more daylight at the end of the day. We stopped for morning tea at the little town of Alpha. We chatted to an old lady who was manning the “free coffee for driver” station. Alpha is coal country and this old lady made a point of telling us that the townsfolk had nothing but praise for Gina Rinehart who made charitable donations where ever she could. As we walked away I overheard he say “I wonder how much she’s donated for the races?”

I always enjoy musing over the names of places and creek crossings that we pass along the way. Billaboo Creek worked its way into my mind and by the time we arrived at Barcaldine I’d written the first verse to an outback poem.

We sat on the pavement at Barcaldine while the girls at Ridgee Didge Cafe cooked us a good Aussie burger with fries. The cafe was on an intersection of a busy cattle road train run. We enjoyed watching the trucks pull up at the stop sign and then negotiate the right hand turn. The trucks kicked up the dust as they accelerated down the road and when our burgers arrived we had to protect them from being seasoned with something that wasn't pepper.

The Tree of Knowledge monument.
We couldn't leave Barcaldine without visiting The Tree of Knowledge. I spent a quiet moment contemplating where the founders of the Australian Labour Party held their first meeting, to negotiate better working conditions for the shearers, all those years ago.

By the time we arrived in Longreach, the landscape and the wonderful outback riding had made such an impression on me that the only way I could try to describe what I had found here was to finish the poem I started on the road to Barcaldine.

The black soil plans from a jump-up.

There is a place called Poverty Plains and I know what they found there.
If you take a peek at Billaboo Creek you might find a dingo’s lair.
Cattle trains, running on lunatic soup, pass with a yaw and a sway,
The wild pigs and roos who didn’t hear them coming, took their last breath that day.

We called at a pub in Longreach, and there was an old bloke propped up at the bar.
I said “Are you a local around here?” He said “I’m no local by far.
There ain’t many locals in this town and there’s none in ‘ere to be found.
You only thought of as local if you got someone in the ground.”

We rolled out the swags on a jump-up and looked out over the Black Soil Plains.
They call this land Channel Country, she keeps pushing up fossilised remains.
This year the drought has taken hold, even ghost gums are struggling to breathe.
If it doesn’t rain in the next three weeks, all the sheep and cattle must leave.

The next morning we’re drinking billy tea and warming ourselves in the desert sun.
“Where to next, south or west?” “Let’s try out luck at Opalton.”
In the distance, cattle are kicking up the dust, taking part in a bangtail muster.
There’s a stockman, cracking his whip in the air, getting the beasts to do what they ought a.

The folks out west seem to smile a lot as they go about their day.
Bush poets and balladeers, they all pass this way.
As we roll up the swags and head on down another dusty track,
I know part of me will always ride free, in the outback.

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