Friday, September 30, 2011

Charleville to Quilpie by bus

When I planned the trip, initially I thought that I would spend the afternoon walking around Charleville. Then I realized that the rail pass covered a bus that would take me out to Quilpie or Charleville and back in time for to get back on the Westlander train to take me back to Brisbane. I figured you don't get much chance to go to a town that starts with a Q, so I picked Quilpie over Cunnamulla.

If you zoom out you can see how far west Quilpie is in Queensland. They are about 210 kilometers (150 miles) apart. Geoff and I spent a night in Charleville last year and you can read my blog of the place here.

There were about six of us on the Ford Transit van that was serving as the bus that day including the driver and a young girl who I presume was her grand daughter home for the school holidays. Here we are setting off for the trip down this street.

Some of the photos were taken through the windows of the van so they are a bit blurry.

 First we passed the remains of the Railway Hotel which burned down earlier this year. I remember it was one of only two pubs in Charleville that were open on a Friday night. 

 So we headed out west along this straight narrow road with no markings. Apparently the locals call it 'the avenue'. You may notice that although the bitumen is narrow, the unsealed sides of red dirt are very wide. The width gives you a chance to see kangaroos before they jump out in front of you.

The driver was not too impressed by the Ford and grumbled that the wipers and signal indicators were reversed from the Toyota and Mitsubishi buses she was used to. The Ford was pressed into service because the usual bus was in the shop getting the dings beaten out from hitting kangaroos. Apparently they hit about one per month.
 Even at a steady 100 kph it's a couple of hours drive out to Quilpie so the driver stopped at this cafe / pub / petrol station in Cooladdi. The building is all that remains of the town which is now a ghost town. At one time it was thriving with almost 200 houses.
The bus is in the background.
 The sign post at Cooladdi.

 Attached to the main building are some cages with birds in them including this Major Mitchell's cockatoo. This is quite a large bird and like many cockatoos in captivity can say 'hello'.
 One of the passengers on the bus lived in Quilpie and showed me the birds and told me what they were. Having a memory like a sieve, I can only say that this is a  yellow bird. The experts can put the named of the birds into the comments section.
 More nameless birds.
 Do you get the feeling that they are related? I bought a Drumstick icecream to tide me over until I got to Quilpie. When Robin was small and we were driving her all over Australia, I used to get her an icecream at each petrol stop and that seemed to keep her happy. A set of swings was also good to get rid of some pent up energy.
 Yes, it will deliver petrol. Who knows what it costs per liter but if you need it out here then you don't care about the price.
 So we continued on and on. The lady who showed me the birds worked on a cattle station as a cook for several years before moving back to Quilpie to help look after her mother. She and the driver were fountains of knowledge about the region. At one stage we passed the deserted location of Cheepie, yet another ghost town that serviced the railway line that still runs from Charleville to Quilpie. We weren't close enough to really see it from the road, but it's out there somewhere.

 The scenery was much the same as what we had already seen from the train but it was a very interesting drive. At various stages the driver pulled well off the road to let the huge cattle train trucks go past in the opposite direction. They are just too big to argue with.
 So here we are at Quilpie with the grand daughter and the former cattle station cook, now a teacher's aid. It was interesting to hear her stories about what the men liked to be fed, which basically was meat and veg with some occasional variations such as pizza.  Bread and butter pudding was a favourite desert.

 One of my goals on this trip was to have a beer at the Quilpie pub. Here is my beer poured by a friendly French girl who came from Paris. She had been working there for about four months and seemed to be enjoying herself. I somehow suspect the local cow cockies were pleased to have her there. 
 It seemed like a pleasant pub and on a nicer day it would have been quite pleasant sitting outside here with a cold beer in hand.
 Quilpie has the typical wide street with a median strip down the middle. It's not a big town by any means, but the locals I spoke to were friendly and seemed to like the place.

 My other goal was to get a pie at the bakery but unfortunately they were sold out. The woman who served me said they filled up their hot pie display case three times a day. Evidently they like their pies in Quilpie.
 All they had left was an apricot slice that kept me going until I had dinner on the train. It was a pretty good slice and there was a definite flavour of apricot.
 The other pub in town is now dry and seemed to provide accommodation for backpackers. You can see the Ford Transit van in front.
 Typical Queenslander house.

 The Country Women's Assocation Hall. You can bet a lot of scones, pikelets, cakes and tea have been consumed in that building over the years. It's worth reading the Wikipedia link since this organization provided major support for women across Australia in the country towns.

 I wandered back to the Station which is the end of the line from Brisbane. Trains still run to transport cattle to the east or goods out to Quilpie. It's not a regular service but apparently runs when there is a train load of stuff. The passenger service stopped some years ago because it was cheaper and faster to use a bus.
 To paraphrase the famous poem by Banjo Patterson, 'There was no movement at the station'. Everything was closed.
 Old water tower for steam engines. The water for Quilpie is bore water from the Great Artesian Basin. The teacher's aid lady said that the water smelled of sulpher but you got used to it. After a while, ordinary water didn't taste right.
 Pathway from the station to the main street.
 Eat your heart out, Sydney and Melbourne. Cafe culture has come to Quilpie.
 Beauty salon.
 Now you know where to get your eggs and you can bet they are free range and collected that morning.
 Water tank beside the old pub.

 These were apparently swallow nests and the birds were constantly flying in and out of them. A couple of locals told me this was the only place in town where the nests were built.

 On the way back to Quilpie we stopped to pick up a young lad on his way to the big smoke. Those dogs in the back are built for work you can be sure.
 Back at Cooladdi where we stopped for a break again, we were greeted by the pet bull. I didn't get too close, those horns looked like they could do you some severe damage.
We came across emus as well as many kangaroos and goats and I think I saw a dead pig as well. These country roads are extremely dangerous at night and the bus driver told a story of how it took her over four hours to drive from Quilpie to Charleville at night instead of the usual two hours in daylight because of all the wildlife on the road.

I'm not a big fan of buses but I must say I really enjoyed this trip and particularly talking to the driver, the grand daughter and the other passengers. The young girl went to boarding school in Toowoomba and was home for the holidays. At one stage I gave her a US $1 bill to look at. She reacted exactly the same as young school children in the US when I give them an Australian note. She was surprised to see it was paper since Aussie notes are plastic with different colours for the different denominations.

I really got the sense that the people who live out in this area really like it out there. They all seemed to know each other and there must be a very strong sense of community. In some ways, Quilpie gives you a real sense of outback Australia, possibly even more than Alice Springs. Thoroughly recommended.

The Westlander - Brisbane to Charleville

Somebody has complained about this blog post. I presume the issue was the map that I included at the start of the blog. I have changed this to a Google Map to show the approximate route of the trip for people who are not familiar with Australia. If it was some other issue, please post a comment so that I can make changes to satisfy your concerns.

Actually I am puzzled by the comments which appear to be advertising advertisements in Toowoomba. I have no connection with any of them.

Queensland is my home state and I am proud to be a banana bender as Queenslanders are called. So I have really been looking forward to the remaining train trips which all take place on the 3'6" narrow gauge long distance QLD trains. The first of these trains heads west from Brisbane to Charleville, over 400 miles away.
If you are not familiar with Queensland geography, Brisbane is on the coast in the south east. The train heads west through Toowoomba, Dalby, Roma and on to Charleville. A bus then travels further west to Quilpie.

My ticket for the Queensland journeys. The sleeper upgrades (second class) were $66 per night.

My friend Geoff who took me to the station.

Inside my sleeper room which I had all to myself both on the trip out to Charleville and on the way back. When I made the reservation I was offered an upgrade to a first class sleeper but that would have cost over $200. Second class was good enough for me.

Corridor in the sleeping car. The carriages aren't very long so there aren't too many compartments. One of them is reserved for the car attendant.

The buffet car.

Power car at the back end of the train. There were two diesel engines pulling the train and they went all the way to Charleville. The second engine is just used as a spare in case the first breaks down.

Inside the buffet or club car. I would have to say this was superior to the equivalent food providing cars on all the other trains I have taken so far on the trip. It's almost art deco.

 Some of the prices.

 Each sleeping compartment has a fold away sink, mirror and power point (240 volts). For non Australians, note the shape of the socket for the three prongs of the electricity plug.

Door and ladder to climb up to the top of the three bunks. The first night I used the top bunk but I did find it a bit difficult to get up there. I'm not quite as agile as I used to be and not quite as trim, taught and terrific.

The train crew gather for a rousing version of Kumbaya prior to departure.

 Suburban train at Roma Street Station.

The train left on time and instead of heading west, headed off in the opposite direction to Central Station. It then loops around via Bowen Hills and the Show Grounds before coming back to Roma Street and heading west. The reason is that the country trains all leave from platform 10 and there is no set of switching points to send the train directly to the western line. Great planning. Of course it adds 25 minutes to the journey.

Toowoomba Station at close to midnight. I realized that the last time I was in this station was back in 1953 when my family moved to Maryborough. Those who know of my haunting talents will realize that I stayed up so that I could experience a really good haunt. Then it was time to climb up into the top berth and after a while I got to sleep. It was a bit rocky up in the top berth, but quieter. Blankets, pillows and sheets were supplied and I needed the blanket.

The next morning, I woke about 5:30 am and after taking about five minutes to work out how to get down safely from the top bunk, I took a shower at the end of the sleeping car. It worked fine and the water was hot. Unfortunately there was cloud cover that lasted for the entire trip.

Shortly after dawn we arrived in Roma.

Some of the older buildings in Roma.

 A few people got off the train. I think there were only about twenty to thirty passengers. Unfortunately this train is not well known and I didn't see any back packers on board. Train buffs know about the train and apparently it is not uncommon for them to travel out to Charleville and on to Quilpie or Cunnamulla and then come straight back just as I am doing.

 Roma Station.

Bottle trees which are quite common  in Queensland.

A paddy melon up close. There was a patch of them growing beside an unused platform. I thought about taking this one on board and cutting it up for breakfast but then got rid of that thought pretty quickly.

It can get very hot here in summer. Air conditioning was unknown when I was young and I can fully understand why it is considered essential these days.

Old pub that would have been well patronized in its day because of its location across from the station. Note the XXXX signs on the ground floor verandah that denote they sell Castlemaine XXXX beer, the Queensland beer. Random breath tests and high taxes on beer have resulted in the death of many pubs in Oz. These day, people drink at home and watch TV. 
It's pretty quiet in Roma in the early morning. The wide streets are empty.

Jumble of electricity equipment.

Old low set houses.

So we continued west out towards Charleville.

Breakfast. I consumed this fritatta, toast, orange juice and coffee and it was enough to see me through until late in the day. The cost was $13. The night before I had met a couple of other blokes a bit older than me and had a bit of a yarn as we drank some beer. We also met in the morning and chatted while we ate breakfast and watched the scenery go by.

The cafe was operated by a young bloke who worked his backside off getting the food and drinks ready as quickly as possible. One thing I have learned is that the staff on all of these Aussie trains are very friendly, very helpful and they work hard. For this train, the staff go all the way out to Charleville and then all the way back to Brisbane.

We trundled past Muckadilla where Robin and I stayed several years ago. If you want a closer look at the place, read my blog from a year ago when Geoff and I stopped there for a look around.

The train rolls on and on and the scenery remains the same but constantly changes. The gloomy day light and the dual glazing of the train windows gives an almost impressionistic look to the countryside.

Some low hills give some variety.

The Maranoa River near Mitchell. The widespread rains over the past couple of years have resulted in plenty of water still in the river.

Old houses in Mitchell.

The train was running a bit early so they told us we could get out of the train for a few minutes.


The power wagon at the back end of the train. It needs a bit of paint.

Disused siding. The line is actually well used by trains hauling cattle.

It's quite common for monster road trains to bring the cattle into the station where they are transferred to the traditional trains for transport to Brisbane.

The road trains with the three wagons are truly scary when you meet them on the road. You are always worried about that third wagon and whether it will stay under control.

Odd shaped shed.

Groves of trees like this denote water.

Road to who knows where. There are properties out here that are bigger than some European countries. Or Delaware.

As well as cows there is quite a lot of wildlife to be seen from the train. At one stage a kangaroo bounded along trying to race the train. It lost.

The dead trees are a reminder that drought is the normal state of affairs in this part of the country. A 'lush' landscape like this is not common.

Plenty of red dirt.

Burning off in winter is common to prevent larger fires spreading in summer.

A deserted attempt at a caravan park. Like Ozymandias, 'nothing beside remains'.

Reversing siding at Morven.

It's commonly used on sidings to stop wagons from rolling away where they are not supposed to go.

Again we were a few minutes ahead of schedule so we got off to have a look around.

Another grey nomad caravan doing the drive around Oz.

Toyota Land Cruisers that are very popular with the locals who have to drive out to their properties. Years ago they used to drive Land Rovers but when the Toyotas appeared back in the late 60's, they became the vehicle of choice because they were much more reliable. In this part of the world when you go off the main highway you can be in big trouble if you break down. Life or death trouble. Years ago, the graziers bought Rolls Royces because they were the most reliable vehicle you could buy. Of course they ripped out the back seat so they could carry the dogs.

This is the main road looking west and east. No problem standing in the middle of the road and taking the photos.

Old shop.

Water storage tanks.

Probably the engine driver finishing a cigarette.

The grocery.

Every town in Australia, no matter the size, has its war memorial.

Back in the dining car. You might notice the wooden floor. The attendant said that in 2014, the Sunlander will be retired and its old carriages would then replace these even older Westlander carriages. I hope this dining car is saved because it is a gem.

Used to change the switching points which control which track is used.

The plain continues, on and on.

There are subtle changes in the redness of the soil. On a cloudy day like this the red does not show up as well as on a bright sunny day with a deep blue sky.

Finally, the welcome sign to Charleville.

Wagon for cattle.

We arrived a couple of minutes early and the few remaining passengers got off. One of the blokes I had been talking to on the train was going to take the train back to Brisbane just like me. He headed off to walk around downtown Charleville. Since I had visited the town the year before, I headed outside to take the bus to Quilpie.

So far I had really enjoyed this train and I looked forward to the trip back.