10 to 13 August 2019
Toowoomba to Goondiwindi via Millmerran, 241km
to St George via Thallon, 269km
and back to Brisbane, 493km
Before we left Toowoomba we heard on local radio the really sad story of a local mother of three who had died, aged just 35, of the flu outbreak that had been working its way around Queensland this winter. We hoped we would avoid it but the truth is that we had left a sick Ranny and Bella back in Brisbane and during our day in Toowoomba I had started to feel decidedly feverish.
Dosing myself up with Lemsip we carried on regardless into a much drier, less populated landscape but with temperatures as low as 2 at night we resolved to find warmer accommodation than our borrowed tent.
We stopped for our breakfast in the literally two horse town of Millmerran. Having the fridge in the car means that we can easily make overnight oats for our breakfast. Millmerran might only have a population of about 1500 people but as well as a convenient breakfast stop, we had heard that it had a local museum that was worth stopping at.
Not far from our breakfast stop we found the volunteers of the Millmerran Historical Society preparing for their annual general meeting. The museum wasn’t really open but 80 year old Betty was only too happy to open it up for us. We promised her we would only be about half an hour. You’ll need much longer than that, she chuckled, grabbing a big bunch of keys and proceeding to give us a very personal guided tour of not only the main museum building (set up as a 1920s style house full of photos of the town’s early settlers) but the many outbuildings dotted around it.
First stop was the Creamshed, a wooden shed that previously sat beside the nearby (now disused) railway line and to which the local farmers brought their cream as part of a local cooperative to be transported and sold further down the line. Living on a farm with her husband in the days before electricity, Betty remembered making their own butter and cheese from their cows’ milk.
Next was the tiny two room shepherd’s hut complete with en suite bath and full of provisions.
Next Betty took us to the Post Office which doubled as the telephone exchange where women like Isobel Sopp connected calls down the party (shared) line. Betty told us that when the telephone operator wanted a night out they simply didn’t get any calls!
The school house was full of desks covered in books. We were amused to find a composition written about The Britons and the Romans. We had felt fairly confident we had left the Romans behind in Europe. Britain really must have seemed a very far away land to these young Queensland students.
With the advent of electricity, entertainment in this small outback town was not hard to come by. In the hall that housed dances and other community events we found televisions and radios and Betty told us about the legendary Maudie, who worked at the cinema and ruled the aisles with her heavy torch, seeking out those taking advantage of the dark. She also told us that the man who played the big drum in the town band had been a 10 pound Pom and we couldn’t help wondering how his life had changed moving from the UK to this very different and quite isolated place.
Next we stopped off in the church with its font carved out of a tree trunk
and next door the sheering shed where Betty demonstrated how they would sheer the sheep on her farm.
Stefan was itching to get his hands on all the old engines in the yard but we needed to leave Betty to finish her work and set off again on our way to Goondiwindi.
Goondiwindi means resting place of the birds in the language of the local Bigambul people and sits as an oasis in the outback on the banks of the MacKenzie river.
However, its proximity to the river has seen the town’s destruction several times in the past when flood waters have submerged its houses and farms.
A quick walk around Goondiwindi was all I could manage before I collapsed into bed and didn’t get up again for 24 hours but it was enough time to see its heritage buildings – the custom house, its old pubs and the art deco town hall.
Leaving Goondiwindi after an extra night’s stay while I tried to shake off my fever and with Stefan starting to feel a bit sick it was hard to imagine how this tinder dry area could ever flood but the signs on the side of the roads suggested they were sometimes impassable. Happily our route to St George was open and there were more hints at how seriously dry this area could get and how precious their water resources are.
We stopped for a Lemsip in the town of Talwood, using our gas stove and kettle for the first time
and enjoying the noisy company of the galahs in the recreation area.
Before we both felt unwell we had planned a camping stop to be in Thallon. It was just too cold at night to think about it when we were feeling in turn freezing cold and boiling hot but we did not want to miss the murals on the grain stores which were spectacular.
We also got to meet 2 metre tall William the Wombat, a giant sculpture of the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat. Only 250 remain living in the wild making it one of the world’s most endangered species.
The road to St George started to reveal the red of Australia’s centre but the farming town at the end of it was to be all the taste of the outback we were going to get for now.
All we saw of St George was the caravan park and the hospital. Unknown to us we had arrived in town on Show Day, a bank holiday, so everything else was closed including the doctor’s surgery. Worried I might have a chest infection the woman at the caravan park suggested I go up to the hospital to get it checked out. The deserted wooden buildings eventually yielded a lovely nurse/midwife called Sarah who checked me over and sent for Doctor Dan who confirmed my lurgy to be a virus. With Stefan now also coughing and shivering in the waiting room we were seriously rethinking our plans. The outback didn’t feel like the best place to be anymore. We had a whole lot of nothing in front of us when we really needed some home comforts.
After a horribly feverish night for Stefan the decision was made. We were still close enough to Brisbane to slink back to the city to get better so we set the sat nav back to Ranny and Andy’s. Continue 297km and turn right was the first instruction.
Arriving safely back in the city we were greeted warmly by a much better Bella and collapsed into bed to get ourselves better…
I think we’ve seen more dead kangaroos than cars! said Stefan. And he wasn’t wrong. There were definitely more dead kangaroos than cars on the road in Queensland’s outback.
And the truth is I decided to stop counting at 52 because it just got too sad.