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.

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