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Winging to Windorah and Charleville chats

Ewen and I are coming to the end of our MDO odyssey – while the jokes are getting worse, the welcomes we receive and the sights we are seeing make it all worth it. We departed Eromanga after a quick return to the Natural History Museum for Belinda and Corey’s excellent coffees and hit the road to Windorah. Along the way we stopped at my very first outback sand dune, where I marvelled at the colour and thought I found a wild watermelon. Turns out it’s an invasive species which was very disappointing.

Not a watermelon, in fact Cucumis myriocarpus/paddy melon. DARN.

Windorah was abuzz with preparations for the opening of their new display hangar, showcasing one of Windorah’s most beloved families – the Kidds. After having the opportunity to purchase back Sandy Kidd’s Cessna 172 from its most recent owners, Cath and Ross, the Windorah community acquired funding to buy the plane, store it safely while a new display hangar was built, and then move it down the road from the airstrip to the hangar to its final home. The stories the plane can tell are truly amazing – Sandy pioneered aerial mustering in Australia, as well as used this little plane to provide emergency support and transport during flooding events in Windorah and surrounds. The hangar also displays a buggy, the bones of which were found on a local station and then carefully restored by a team of local enthusiasts.

Almost ready for opening!

Prior to the official opening ceremony and event on the Saturday, we made a pilgrimage to Sando’s Sandhill, a spectacular series of red sandhills named after Sandy Kidd, where we watched the sunset over this glorious outback landscape. We also befriended the dogs from the local pub and managed not to embarrass ourselves too terribly playing pool!

Everyone making the most of the sunshine.
Another gorgeous sunset, another overexcited Kiwi MDO.
CAN YOU BLAME ME THOUGH.

As the opening event grew nearer we made ourselves useful by giving the Cessna and the buggy a careful clean, which was a real privilege. Jo Wills and I have had the pleasure of putting together the interpretation for both the plane and the buggy, and it was a really lovely experience to be up close and personal with a plane that has so many stories and local memories associated with it, and which shows its history through bumps and marks, dents and bends. We also were able to talk to the plane’s most recent owners, Cath and Ross, who told us of their adventures flying it across Australia with Cath as the pilot. The enormous spider which had taken up residence in the wing was deeply unimpressed as we evicted her and her cobwebs.

Adding Spider Whisperer to my CV.
Ewen definitely secretly wants to be a pilot when he grows up.

The event itself was such a pleasure to attend and we both feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to meet the community who have worked so hard to make this space a reality. Lovely speeches and memories of Sandy and his family were shared, including by Bill who taught Sandy and other locals how to fly! The hospitality was incredible and we were very impressed by the local lads and ladies showing off some amazing dance moves. The MDOs will not be taking questions at this time about their dancing skills.

The interpretation panels are soon to be mounted on hand-made plinths from the Roma Men’s Shed!

Many thanks to Amanda, Peta, Matt, the whole Simpson family and the Windorah community for making us so welcome and putting together a wonderful celebration.

From Windorah we started the journey back east, watching the landscape gradually change as we passed through Quilpie. We met with the team at the Charleville Historic House where we were treated to fresh scones with jam and cream on a very, very cold morning! It was lovely to catch up with the team and find out what they have been doing, and were able to provide some thoughts on collection management nitty gritty like loan forms and other important collection tasks. The ABC has also opened a Western Queensland office in Charleville, and along with Gabrielle Wheeler, the Historic House’s Treasurer, we shared our thoughts about museums and heritage in the West. Emus were mentioned, and I’m not sorry.

With ABC reporter Melanie Groves, discussing lizard chutes and Charleville legends.

And now we are in Roma, finishing up what has been a true adventure. We have:

  • Covered almost 3,000km
  • Eaten 16 sachets of microwave porridge between us
  • Visited around 25 museums, heritage places or groups
  • Seen at least 40 actual live emus and a real live echidna
  • Met some of the most interesting, welcoming and passionate people in the West
  • Purchased 8 epic souvenir magnets (Elspeth) and 3 souvenir caps (Ewen)
  • Developed opinions on Country Life motel soap
  • and…have fallen even more in love with objects, histories and stories.

Many thanks to the communities, volunteers, council members and museum teams who welcomed us in and showed us their places, objects and stories. We are so privileged to do the work we do and the communities we work with make it all possible.

Next stop, Toowoomba and Townsville, where Ewen might finally defrost and I might need to buy a new fridge to put my magnets…

A special treat for readers who’ve made it to the very end.

Ancient adventures in quirky Quilpie Shire

With the weather now well and truly glorious, Ewen and I departed Thargomindah for Quilpie, a two hour drive through scenic country, unusually green after so much rain. I was unreasonably excited by many emu sightings including a family group poking about by the side of the road – simple joys for this city slicker.

Look at them! So imposing!

For our first night in Quilpie we stayed at the Shearer’s Quarters at The Lake, a cattle and goat property. The owners recognised the need to diversify during long-running droughts and set up some truly lovely accommodation, including a top-notch MDO office on the verandah. A little bit chilly in the early mornings but the view was well worth it.

Ewen remains unacclimatised.

Louise, the owner of the property, and James her son kindly allowed us to feed the orphaned kids and lamb, much to the embarrassing excitement of the aforementioned city MDO. Marilyn the pig was the grateful recipient of our apple and pear cores.

Not pictured: Marilyn’s truly beautiful eyelashes!

From The Lake we headed into Quilpie proper, where we met with Karen and Jess at the Quilpie Visitor Information Centre. The Quilpie Council manages a number of sites around the Quilpie Shire, including the Railway Museum and Quilpie Museum in town, and the Adavale heritage precinct. They also assist with the Eromanga Living History Museum which we will get to later! Ewen was blown away by the work Jess had done in the Quilpie Museum after he and Mel visited a number of years ago. The space is now arranged by theme, with amazing photographs framed in a way that allows easy changeover, and objects which help to share the local stories from the Shire. While on site we worked with Karen and Jess to move the Railway Museum’s original station bell and lantern into a display case and talked through some options for other projects in the area.

The railway museum in Quilpie. Note the original bell on the desk which is now safely in a display case.

The next day we headed an hour up the road to Adavale. Once a bustling regional town, the extension of the railway to Quilpie rather than Adavale meant the population drastically reduced. On the drive we were treated to sensational views, with deep blue skies making an impressive contrast against the red roads.

Brute eating up the dirt roads.

Along the way Quilpie Council had developed a star gazing platform with an amazing view – sadly too much sun around to make the best use of it!

Only one big yellow star to be seen.

In Adavale we explored the Shire Hall and the information panels about the town, and assessed the old police cell with the view to providing some recommendations for preservation and interpretation to Quilpie Shire Council. There are extensive records of the police service in Adavale available with some great quirky stories, as well as some more modern tales as well – Adavale still has its own police officer.

Adavale’s police cell, along with someone guilty of the serious crime of poor puns.

We also assessed the meat safe, the only remaining structure where Adavale town used to stand. The building was likely a part of the Green Gates Hotel which stood next door. Quilpie Council plan to stabilise the building and tell some more stories about both the meat safe specifically, as well as about Adavale’s history more generally, a project I’ll be looking forward to assisting with! We also suggested that the two flood boats displayed outside the meat safe were moved back to shelter at the Shire Hall for their long-term protection. Small plaques illustrate where the town buildings used to stand, including banks, pubs and general stores.

Meat safe and flood boats.

Rather unexpectedly, Adavale is home to a patisserie, the Elegant Emu (does anyone sense a theme?). We enjoyed a very luxurious morning tea on the verandah.

A well fed MDO is a happy MDO.

After a restful night in Quilpie, we headed off to Eromanga, home of Australia’s largest recorded dinosaur – Cooper, Australotitan cooperensis, thought to have been 30 metres long! The Eromanga Natural History Museum has been a project a long time in the making, since 14 year old Sandy Mackenzie discovered an unusual rock just outside the town of Eromanga in 2004. The ‘rock’ turned out to be part of a fossilised dinosaur, and since then the team have unearthed many internationally significant dinosaur remains, as well as creating a stunning museum experience for visitors and an incredible laboratory set up for fossil preparation and research work. We were very lucky to hear about the museum’s journey of development from Robyn, Corey and Jo, and loved meeting more of the team as part of the guided tour.

In the museum’s workshop with our excellent guide Lachlan.
Dwarfed by Cooper – 3D printed casts of his legbones.

Unfortunately due to ongoing flooding in the Diamantina Shire, our planned visit out to Birdsville wasn’t possible so we’ll have to come back when the waters recede! This did give us an extra day to enjoy the beautiful landscapes around Eromanga, as well as a good look at the Eromanga Living History Centre.

Situated on the main street, the centre explores some of the stories and objects relating to Eromanga’s social history. The object theatre display was a quirky look into some of the stories of people who call this place home, from Indigenous communities to opal miners to pastoralists and more.

Living History Centre, Eromanga

Next we will head to Windorah and Charleville – the final leg of this western trip is rapidly approaching! Unfortunately for Ewen my delight at emus appears not to be approaching any sort of finality.

London, Paris…Thargomindah

The rain had set in as we departed Cunnamulla for Thargomindah, with road closures and flooding causing havoc for tourists all over the Outback. Luckily for us the highway out was unaffected. It’s been amazing to see the landscape so green and lush – I gather I am seeing the Outback looking very different to the last few years!

Wet roads and lots of clouds.

After 45 minutes of careful driving we arrived in the little town of Eulo. Our first stop was to the large sculpture of Kenny, the local friendly diprotodon. The largest marsupial to have ever lived, in 2012 scientists including those from Queensland Museum found the fossilized skeletons of up to 40 diprotodons at a site in Eulo. The name means ‘two forward teeth’ and we were both very fond of Kenny’s wee grin.

Two happy faces in Eulo.

Eulo is also renowned for a very interesting local – the Eulo Queen, after whom the pub is named. Isabel Grey was a clever businesswoman and a mysterious individual, who may have been born in England but alternatively suggested she was from Mauritius. She was married three times, and her love for locally found opals meant she engaged in all manner of nefarious dealings to obtain these beautiful stones. After a tumultuous life, she died in poverty in Toowoomba, but is fondly remembered in Eulo. We also enjoyed discovering the site of the Eulo lizard races and a rather epic town sign. The local flood truck was also lovely to see – raised high on its axles, it ferried food, supplies, mail and passengers across the Paroo River in flooded conditions between 1990 and 2017.

Lizards and flood trucks make for a happy MDO.

From Eulo we continued westwards in the rain to Thargomindah, on the banks of the Bulloo River. This little town punches above its weight when it comes to exploring heritage, and we spent a wonderful day in the sunshine exploring the heritage buildings and trails. Thargomindah’s claim to fame was its adoption of hydroelectric power – it was the third place in the world to switch on lights powered by hydroelectricity, after London and Paris! The heritage sites in Thargo are accessed by a swipe card from the visitor’s centre, and connected by lovely walkways through town, making a 5km stroll. Each site – the old hospital, the jail and the hydroelectric plant – contain a mix of photographs, audiovisual content and actors telling quirky and moving stories of each place’s history. We particularly enjoyed some of the stories of the hospital where quick thinking and ingenuity was required to save lives, and of the town bore being used to cook corned beef!

Matron Freda Tait telling tales at Old Thargomindah Hospital.
Bore drains and windmills feeding into the old hydroelectric plant.
And then things began getting a little weird…

Our final stop was at Leahy House, the oldest house in Thargomindah. Made of local mud brick, the house is open to the public at all hours. After a great chat with the team at the Visitor Information Centre we’re hoping the MDO team will be able to assist with maintaining this iconic Thargo location. We also really enjoyed finding out all the ways the Council are working to make Thargo a wonderful place for locals and tourists alike to live and visit, including new housing, schooling options and lovely leisure activities.

Next up is Quilpie, where we discover a new appreciation for pigs and goats…

One of Thargomindah’s fabulous local murals.

Unique eggs and lizard chutes

Since heading out from Goondiwindi on Wednesday morning, the on-the-road MDOs have headed further west into cotton country, with the first stop Thallon. This little community boasts a supersized art presence, with the grain silos dominating the horizon painted with dazzling murals. William the northern hairy nosed wombat was also popular with one MDO in particular, although she’s still looking out for the real thing…

Brute appreciating the art in the afternoon
Wombats also appreciate a hug on a cold day

From Thallon we spent the night in St George, a relaxed town along the mighty Balonne River. The river is running especially high at the moment but as we discovered, that was nothing compared to floods the town has suffered through in earlier years.

The flood marker along the Balonne.

After a catch up with the friendly team at the Visitor Information Centre and finding out a bit more about some of the cotton growing that powers this region, we wandered to a St George icon – The Unique Egg. Run by Stavros (Steve) Margaritus and his daughter, The Unique Egg displays Stavros’ incredible emu egg carving skills, which he picked up after moving to St George from Greece in the 1950s. Now in his late 80s we enjoyed meeting the artist himself.

A personal favourite – turns out the emu came before the egg

From St George we headed west to Cunnamulla in the Paroo Shire, home to Slim Dusty’s Cunnamulla Fella. Ewen has perfected the layering technique required to stay warm despite the sunshine, sporting the combo of beanie plus sunglasses to fulfill both warmth and glare requirements.

Warm and sunsafe

On our way to Cunnamulla we stopped in the small community of Bollon, where we very unexpectedly had French crepes and eclairs for lunch, made by two French chefs living in the town! We also were able to visit the Bollon Heritage Centre and discover a bit more about this beautiful part of the world, in particular the importance of bush nurses to these rural communities.

Fundraising wheel for the Bollon Bush Nursing Association

We also marvelled at the increasingly spectacular landscape, including some picture postcard-level stock mustering happening along the highway!

Stock mustering along the highway – lots of water around at the moment

Once in Cunnamulla we headed to the Cunnamulla Fella Visitor Information Centre, where we met the lovely Carmel who showed us the features of their facility. The VIC also includes the town’s museum, which was a brilliant mix of thematic displays, local stories and audiovisual experiences. We loved some of the moving and quirky stories behind the collections, including the town band who came out and played at the railway station for every returning serviceperson in World War Two, and the stories of the local boxing gym and legendary coach Bill Johnstone, complete with miniature boxing ring. The museum also included an audiovisual experience exploring the artesian basin and opal mining, with associated audiovisual experiences looking at shearing and wool, and the largest cattle station in Australia – Tinnenburra. The collection of king plates from local First Nations leaders were also special to see.

Checking out the AVs in the ‘Artesian Time Tunnel’
Boxing Club display

Of particular interest was the original starting gate for the Cunnamulla & Eulo Festival of Opals Lizard Race, complete with winner’s sash and medal. We will return to lizard racing once we get to Eulo as Elspeth may have discovered a new curatorial passion…

We had a really great meeting with the Paroo Shire Council team, looking at ways the MDO programme might be able to assist with new heritage developments and with managing this amazing Cunnamulla collection. From there it was time for a wander around the centre of town, a couple of Cunnamulla Fella photos, and a camel burger for the road.

Saying Cunnamulla Fella this often has really been a test of Elspeth’s Kiwi accent

Next stop Eulo and on to Thargomindah – tune in next time for more giant animal sculptures, reptilian tales and why the tagline for Thargo is London, Paris, Thargomindah…

Brute is THRILLED

G’day from Gundy (and Texas)

As part of the MDO role, every so often we hit the road to reconnect with some of the more far-flung communities in our region and get to know the places and people throughout Queensland. As I’m the newest member of the MDO team, as well as not a Queensland local, it was definitely time for me to get to know a bit more of the Southern Inland Queensland region. So with Ewen as co-pilot, this week I set out on a three week journey to meet the people caring for heritage and telling community stories as far west as Birdsville. As we go I’ll share some of the tales we’re lucky enough to be told, as we head from Toowoomba via the Gonndiwindi region, Balonne, Paroo, Quilpie, Diamantina, Murweh and Maranoa.

Our first stop was the little rural town of Texas, right on the border of New South Wales. The town got its iconic name from early pastoral runs, and when a holding was disputed the owner was inspired to name the station Texas, apparently a reference to land disputes common in the American range lands. While in town we were welcomed to the Rabbit Works, an amazing brick building on the edge of town which was a lifeline for the community during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It’s also the only remaining Rabbit Works building in the country, making it extra special! Queensland, like much of Australia, had been overrun by rabbits who decimated feed and ruined the landscape. The Rabbit Works provided work for locals, and supplied meat and fur to the United Kingdom and the USA, as well as to Akubra to make their famous hats. We were both absolutely amazed by some of the information shared about the rabbit economy for Australia, including more than four BILLION rabbits – skins and meat – being exported from Australia between 1904 and 1947. The Texas community including the dedicated team of volunteers who manage the site have done an incredible job in bringing this site to life, assisted by the work of the Goondiwindi Regional Council.

Two slightly traumatised MDOs in front of a truck of dead bunnies.

Unfortunately this time around we weren’t able to visit the Texas Heritage Centre and Tobacco Museum as they’re closed for renovation works – we’ll be back when they’re open again to see what they’ve been up to!

After a chilly night in Texas we headed further west to Goondiwindi, with a quick stop at Yelarbon to marvel at the towering silo art.

Brute the Ute definitely a fan.

Goondiwindi is the home of Gunsynd the Grey, a racehorse renowned for his humble beginnings and incredible racing prowess. We stopped in at the Civic Centre to find out more about this beloved horse, and enjoyed some of the lovely photos and stories of this local legend. Previous MDO Lydia Egunnike put together this display alongside the Goondiwindi Council so it was great to see some of her work in the wild!

After a short stroll along the Macintyre River, waving hello at New South Wales on the opposite bank, we made our way to the Customs House Museum. Manned by a team of dedicated volunteers, this collection of heritage buildings from the Goondiwindi region showcases stories of local ingenuity, times of crisis and celebration, and gives visitors a great sense of what makes Goondiwindi tick. We both particularly liked the two flood boats, one of which was used in the devastating 1956 flood to mark the high water lines on trees along the riverbank. The town engineer then used these markings to design the levee, which has been so successful Goondwindi hasn’t flooded since!

Customs House Museum showing the flood boats.

After defrosting Ewen from tropical Townsville in the sun along the Macintyre River (walking along the flood-prevention levees!), it was time to head back to rest and regroup. Next we are headed to Thallon and St George – adventures ahead!

Two chilly MDOs enjoying the beautiful Macintyre River.