The Road Ahead : October November 2008
your head, smearing your face with ochre to frighten off intruders to the camp or learning how to track wild animals. Emus, kangaroos, brolgas and echidnas are among the native Australians in residence at Charlotte Plains, a sprawling 27,000 ha sheep station – just a ‘country mile’ or two down the road from Bollon. This farm-stay is home to Robyn and Reid Russell, who invite guests to spend some time in the family’s 80-year-old Queenslander, one of two homesteads on the property. Wake among the heirlooms and cherished items from Robyn’s childhood that fi ll every room – from rocking-horses, Box Brownie cameras and old travelling trunks to Vogue magazines from the 1930s. Open a wardrobe and you’ll find glamorous evening gowns that belonged to Robyn’s mum still dangling on the hangers. ABOVE, CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Bore head at Charlotte Plains. Bush tucker. Victoria Hotel, Goondiwindi. PREVIOUS PAGE: Dean Miller with cameleer Willie Cooma. Sign at Charlotte Plains. the road from the Gunsynd statue on the banks of the Macintyre River. Photos on display reveal a racehorse with real character, adored by young and old. Local racing expert and co-founder of the museum Phil Percival said Gunsynd would bow to the crowds. “He was a showman,” Mr Percival said. “People who weren’t even remotely interested in racing would go to see him run. There was even a window at the town’s TAB where you could only bet on the Goondiwindi Grey.” It’s worth making the four and a half hour road trip from Brisbane to learn more of the Gunsynd fairytale and experience Goondiwindi’s country hospitality. Plus, the town provides a great base for further exploration of the Western Downs. Two and a half hours drive west along the Barwon Highway you’ll come to St George, the inland fi shing capital of Queensland. The wide Balonne River is the big attraction here – luring anglers in pursuit of the Murray cod, silver perch and yellowbelly that inhabit the coffee-coloured waters. Those not interested in wetting a line can wet their palate instead at Riversands Winery. Seventeen hectares of well-tended vines slope down to the banks of the Balonne. The cellar door is open for tastings seven days a week. You can enjoy a BBQ or settle into the garden cafe with a glass of wine and cheese platter. Delicacies of a different kind are on offer at the pretty town of Bollon, a little over an hour from St George, along the Balonne Highway. At Deb’s Cafe, a bush tucker spread of roast kangaroo, emu pate and wattle-seed scones kicks off the Nullawokka Aboriginal Cultural tour, run by Bill Speedy. Bill – a descendent of the district’s Cooma people – leads visitors on a two-hour walking tour through town, finishing beneath shady river gums on the banks of Wallum Creek, where he’s fashioned a traditional family campsite of gunyah and fire-pit. The tour is a fun and interactive experience, during which you could fi nd yourself balancing a coolamon (food gathering dish) on 52 OCT/NOV 08 The memorabilia evokes Charlotte Plains at its height – a mighty station that ran 54,000 head of sheep and served as the social hub for the district. “Every few weeks, neighbours would come over for the movies,” Robyn recalled. “We’d hire in MGM fi lms and, as a child, I had a pet kangaroo that I’d take in a pram and feed Jaffas.” For more rustic accommodation, you can bunk in the shearers’ quarters or camp up by the artesian bore head. Since 1892, water from the Great Artesian Basin has been fl owing forth in the hundreds of thousands of litres – channelled to thirsty stock via a 145 km network of drains across the property. A dip in the bore drain is more pleasant than it sounds. You’ll make that discovery the second you sink into the soothing, warm mineral waters. A sunset soak is highly recommended and can be followed by a camp-oven dinner, on request. While you’re up at the bore head, you might happen upon a remarkable bush character by the name of Willie Cooma, the Cameleer. When he’s in the district, Willie offers camel wagon rides along the bore drain system. Willie captured his camels in the wilds of the Simpson Desert and has trained them to respond to spoken commands. He calls them by name to steer his gypsy-style wagon. “Look at that, I don’t touch the reigns. I talk to them instead,” explained Willie, as the wagon made slow progress across the western plains. “Camels have great character. You could have 100 of them and they’d have 100 different personalities.” Willie’s dream is to run 10-day safaris deep into the Australian Outback, “just like the pioneers”. SEE IT ON SEVEN Dean Miller and Chris Parsons met some wonderful bush characters on their driving trip through Queensland’s Western Downs and beyond. Follow their journey on Channel 7’s Queensland Weekender, on Saturday, November 1, at 5.30pm. GET THERE WITH RACQ Plan your driving holiday of the Western Downs online with the RACQ trip planner, at racq.com. See RACQ’s tips on Queensland Weekender and The Great South East.
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