Charleville, with its 3, 300 people, sits at the southern gateway to the Queensland Outback. It has hunkered down along the Warrego River and once was an important centre for early explorers and pioneers. As we continue to follow the Cobb and Co stagecoach route through the outback we learn how important this service was to settlers during the mid-nineteenth century. The town is a major wool centre for the country and wool industry attractions have been developed to help bolster an already thriving tourist industry.
Each country town wills those passing through to stop a while and enjoy its history, museums, art galleries and natural wonders and for the uninitiated one could spend days in most town soaking up local knowledge. Sadly, our goal this trip is to spend as much time as possible in the Northern Territories and central Australia which means we have limited the time we spend in small towns, and miss some completely.
Our focus in Charleville was to learn more about the iconic Royal Flying Doctor’s service (RFDS) that covers vast areas of rural and remote areas bringing emergency specialist care to those injured or experiencing life-threatening illness. The service also brings vital health care to those living, working or travelling throughout the outback areas that are remote. Charleville is one of nine bases, others being: Roma, Bundaberg, Brisbane, Cairns, Mount ISA, Longreach, Rockhampton and Townsville.
The RFDS has a visitor’s centre with interactive and audio-visual features and located adjacent to the RFDS Base and Hangar. Unfortunately the tour of the Hangar is no longer available but we did learn from another visitor, who had visited previously that the hangar and base are situated on a WWII American army base. Apparently the underground tunnels and bunkers built by American forces remain in tact.
On the way back into town we stopped at the Vortex Rain Guns, only two of the six rainmaking guns that were designed in Italy to break up hail above vineyards, were placed strategically at a number of locations and then charged with gunpowder and fired into the skies. The consequent explosion was supposed to change the atmospheric pressure causing rain to fall. That was the theory … and sadly an epic failure. The 1902 experiment was a desperate attempt to break the devastating drought.
We camped at the Bush Camp south of town and gathered with fellow campers for happy hour. Drinks and nibbles, chairs and a warm afterglow of a day spent in learning and exploring made for an wonderful ending to our day. While we chatted with others, the damper was in its final cooking stages and we eagerly awaited while Camp Father lifted the lid of the camp oven and Camp Mother knocked the damper ‘to see if anyone was home’. Yes, the bread was ready and thirty childishly keen travellers gathered around for a piece of the savoury camp bread slathered in rich butter. A perfect end to a great day.