Longreach is a welcome oasis
LONGREACH comes as a real surprise.
Arguably the economic centre of Outback Queensland, it is almost a mirage amid hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of grazing and scrub country.
Some 1300km from Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland, it is perhaps 2000km further to Darwin at the top end of the Australia.
Pulling into the town after a long journey, you are not prepared for the facilities on hand.
There is a feeling of wealth when so many other country towns are struggling to survive.
Yet even Longreach is battling, the result of continued drought over many years and a shrinking government footprint.
It is the resilience and drive of the community that keeps the town alive.
It's sheep and cattle country out here and sitting in the main street mid-morning I get to talking with David Lindsay, who has been down from Isisford for the Outback Drover's Reunion.
Outback workers, drovers, stockmen and women come together to honour the drovers of days gone by.
Sitting around the campfire, they tell yarns and remember those who lived lonely in the saddle moving stock through the Australian Outback.
And I am in for another unique country experience - Longreach is the only town in Australia that offers a five-at-hand horse and carriage journey at a gallop.
Richard Kinnon started his Cobb and Co coach tours in Longreach eight years ago when sheep farming become hard due to sustained drought.
"It's all about the experience,” he tells the group from in front of the old McNally Welcome Hotel in the main street of town.
"We want people to experience the real feel of the Outback, the integrity - of the history.
"The Life and Times of Cobb and Co has been nominated for the archives of Australian history for telling this story ... it's a great story to tell.”
We are met at the stables and yards behind the hotel by coach driver Jeremy Kinnon.
"This is an experience,'' he announces, the sunlight of early morning illuminating the brim of his Akubra hat.
"It's not a joy ride. We will be travelling along the original track that came into town. We're dealing with real horses. We generally can judge what they're doing but not what the people are doing.”
It's an opportunity to experience what the early pioneers went through in this form of transport that opened up the inland.
The coach, pulled by five trained horses, takes a gentle tour through Longreach town, then heads out to the dirt track that is part of the original Longreach-Windorah Cobb and Co mail route ... a gallop through the bush is an exhilarating experience for all ages.
For 70 years from the 1850s to the 1920s, Cobb and Co coaches were a principal means of transport in the colonies of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
Settlers moving inland, new immigrants hopeful of success on the gold fields, shearers, agents, squatters, children and their parents - everyone used Cobb and Co stage coaches to move, as efficiently as was possible, around the colonies.
Even larger numbers of people, many of who lived in remote country towns, stations or settlements, relied on Cobb and Co's mail delivery services.
Coaches brought essential supplies, news from home and a sense of connection to others in what was perceived as a distant and inhospitable land.
Cobb & Co routes were seen as a lifeline to isolated communities and a means of taming the vastness of Australia.
Back in the tea rooms at the former hotel, now Kinnon's tea rooms and store, it is time for smoko of tea and coffee served with scones spread with jam and whipped cream.
There's so much to like about Longreach. The sound of cockatoos in the trees in the late afternoon, the railway station that was completed in 1916.
Sitting, watching the cattle trains roll in, and then roll out of town. Then there's the country air with a clean crispness to it in autumn.
Yet most of all, it is that magic hour as daylight floats away. When you can gather around the campfire as the drovers used to do with millions of stars above your head.
The 2017 Cobb & Co Stage Coach Experience tour season is from April 3 - October 31. The four-hour tour starts from The Station Store in Longreach. Monday to Friday from 8.30am. Bookings essential.