SURAT, what an amazing little country town. Nearer to Roma than St George in Outback Queensland, this picturesque gem was a blessing after a long day’s drive. On our way to the primitive camping ground auspiced by the Fishing and Restocking Club of the region, we passed a small town museum, library and a cafe that advertised ‘the best coffee for miles around’, which was an easy claim as there is literally nothing for miles around. The town is an angler’s haven with the local club restocking the waterways with Murray River Cod, Catfish and Yellow Belly. Neither the MOTH nor I are fisherman, opting instead to explore the riverbank and wander into town, well I did while the MOTH did ‘more interesting things’.
While the MOTH sorted the caravan battery and caught up with the local garage owner, I found the local library, hey I’m a book-lover. Before I knew it the welcoming and enthusiastic librarian had signed me up with the Rural Libraries of Queensland. Now we could borrow hard copies of books in Surat and return them to any one of the libraries along our way into the Northern Territories. Not only proper books but e-audio books, Zinio magazines and ebooks; I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Life doesn’t get much better than this for someone who was anxious about leaving her reading stash at home.
The library adjoins the museum which morphs into the visitors’ information centre and the local librarian covers all three posts. As I moved between services this one member of staff made sure I had all the information and necessary maps to continue our road trip. Alongside the information centre is the social museum housing some of the best small museum exhibits of local farming activities we have seen. By this time the MOTH had joined me, and having come from a farming family, he knew most of the old machinery names and their uses. So personal to have one’s own guide.
The museum housed a beautiful stagecoach from bygone years when in 1854 four young Americans established what became known as Cobb and Co. Initially, their stagecoaches transported miners to the goldfields of Victoria but as their network of coaches grew a mail service was added to an already successful stagecoach service that criss-crossed the country regularly transporting passengers to destinations that covered thousands of miles over rugged terrain. With regular interchanges established along routes the coaches ran at greater speeds between changing stations thereby reducing the overall journey time. Large numbers of grooms were stationed along the routes to care for horses, harnessing rested horses to the stagecoaches and then grooming well-worked horses ready for their next job. In time inns were added to the services provided by Cobb and Co and it is these eating houses, that later became modern day restaurants that most of us remember.
We are camped alongside the Balonne River, a tributary of the Murray-Darling catchment which is part of the largest freshwater catchment in Australia. The campground is well maintained by the Fishing and Restocking Club and has a brand new toilet block, the previous one having been burned to the ground. Each morning travellers move on and by dusk the campground is filled with a new flush of grey heads.
There is no charge to stay here although there is a quaint donation box suggesting perhaps a gold coin. So here we are unwinding and facing a difficult decision in the coming hours … where to next?