As we head west towards our ultimate destination of the Northern Territories we also head towards the Tropic of Capricorn. We notice the times between night and days being less disparate the nearer the Equator one travels, not that the Equator is our destination or anywhere near for that matter. The variance between night and day temperatures are small too and we think we could not live in these latitudes during summer months. Daytime temperatures range between 28 and 31C, it amuses us how we enjoy the breezes that bring a reprieve. At home, we would jump into the swimming pool, cool off and continue with whatever our activity. As it is the water looks none to inviting and the kangaroos and solitary bird would not appreciate our company.
Pacific Heron and ‘Roos at dusk at the weir
Our camping neighbours, Tom and Bernie, know a bloke that used to be a fencer and worked in temperatures of 58C. Keeping hydrated is the key apparently so drink water and then some more and when you have had your fill have some more. We met this ‘bloke’ on our final day beside the weir. He wore his hardworking life like a cloak of wizened bark softened only by his sense of humour that is as big as the Outback. Salt of the earth sort of bloke. The kind of fellow A. J. Paterson (‘Banjo’) wrote about in The Man from Snowy River: …
He was hard and tough and wiry – just the sort that won’t say die –
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head …
Pacific Heron (White-necked heron)
We are in Waltzing Matilda country and tripping along the highway specially named for Banjo’s Matilda. Did you know the title was Australian slang for travelling on foot (waltzing, derived from the German auf der Walz) with one’s belongings in a “matilda” (swag) slung over one’s back (thank you Wikipedia).
The Matilda Highway stretches from Barringun in the south to Karumba in the north, meandering through the state of Queensland. This stop we visit the town of Barcaldine with a week’s worth of museums, places of interest and activities to keep those interest occupied all day long. We aren’t those kinds of people preferring to wander the streets to get a sense of the place, take in the architecture, visit the local library that usually has a cultural display and ponder how the town developed and in fact why some towns continue to thrive in what seems an austere and harsh environment.
View across the billabong on the other side of the weir from our happy hour seats
The Australian Workers Heritage Centre is a tribute to ordinary working Australian cobbers, celebrating their contributions to the nation we know today. The museum takes an entire block in the town and has impressive gardens in which visitors are invited to picnic as they continue their exploration of all things Aussie. Our interest was the Tree of Knowledge, steeped in local farming and pastoral history. The story told is of the industrial struggle between shearers and pastoralists during The Great Shearers’ Strike of 1891 that had a profound effect on the nation’s industrial, social and political future.
Tree of Knowledge
The Tree of Knowledge has pride of place in the main street of Barcaldine. It has a connection to the 1891 Shearers’ Strike in 1891 and shearers held their meetings and assemblies under the shade of the giant Eucalypt. It is believed these meetings and solidarity shown workers were the start of the Labour Party. The tree was poisoned, by an unknown culprit, in 2006. After its death the tree was transported to Brisbane and underwent the world’s first preservation process to protect it from fungal and insect attack. Now it stands under an award-winning timber structure that has thousands individual timbers, most of which are hanging to give the feeling of being sheltered by the tree.
Barcaldine’s marble Clocktower commemorating those who went to war and the 38 who did not return.
The Radio Picture Theatre continues to operate ninety-one years since the family owned and operated venture screened the first film in 1926. Today it is run with volunteer energy and goodwill, showing current films over weekends. We loved the architecture that has been preserved, it gives a town a sense of time and place.
We spent two nights camped by the Lloyd Jones Weir and drove into Barcaldine each day to catch up with the town’s heritage and attractions. The weir is popular for fishing and recreation and a wonderful camping spot and only 14kms from town – on the Alice River – it was the perfect place to catch our breath and catch up with other campers.
I will leave you with the song recalling the history of the Shearers’ Strike .
The price of wool was falling in 1891
The men who owned the acres saw something must be done
“We will break the Shearers’ Union, and show we’re masters still
And they’ll take the terms we give them, or we’ll find the ones who will”
From Claremont to Barcaldine, the shearers’ camps were full
Ten thousand blades were ready to strip the greasy wool
When through the west like thunder, rang out the Union’s call
“The sheds’ll be shore Union or they won’t be shorn at all”
Oh, Billy Lane was with them, his words were like a flame
The flag of blue above them, they spoke Eureka’s name
“Tomorrow,” said the squatters, “they’ll find it does not pay
We’re bringing up free labourers to get the clip away”
“Tomorrow,” said the shearers, “they may not be so keen
We can mount three thousand horses, to show them what we mean”
“Then we’ll pack the west with troopers, from Bourke to Charters Towers
You can have your fill of speeches but the final strength is ours”
“Be damned to your six-shooters, your troopers and police
The sheep are growing heavy, the burr is in the fleece”
“Then if Nordenfeldt and Gatling won’t bring you to your knees
We’ll find a law,” the squatters said, “that’s made for times like these”
To trial at Rockhampton the fourteen men were brought
The judge had got his orders, the squatters owned the court
But for every one that’s sentenced, ten thousand won’t forget
Where they jail a man for striking, it’s a rich man’s country yet