Outback Queensland is more than it seems
14.06.2011 - 16.06.2011 19 °C
It may look like a whole lot of nothing but it's amazing what's in the outback now and what started here. The histories of Qantas, the Flying Doctors and School of the Air all began in western Qld or central Australia. We've just had a great afternoon at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach - walking on the wing of a jumbo jet, going inside the first Boeing 707 ever made, getting up close to some of the earliest Qantas planes (which needed passengers to wear goggles), and walking inside the tin shed where it all started. Amazing visionaries (Fysh, McGinness and McMasterl) returned as air heroes from WWI and weren't keen to do sheep mustering or whatever outback civilian life held for them. So in 1920 they started an air service, the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service, now Australia's international airline. Lots of colourful outback characters and everyday people helped them.
The founders worked with the Rev John Flynn of the Australian Inland Mission to start the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) whose vision it was. RFDS started in Cloncurry, yet another western Qld town and one we visited earlier in the week. In the late 1920s, Flynn combined the new technologies of aviation and radio to bring healthcare to the people of the outback, whether they be white or black. He had first-hand experience of the harshness of outback life and the lack of services to people on remote stations. He was supported by the Presbyterians of Cloncurry and a host of dedicated doctors, nurse, pilots and engineers.
The School of the Air we visited in Alice Springs last month used the two-way radios placed by the RFDS at cattle stations (and usually 'manned' by the station owners' wives) to deliver the first lessons to outback kids 60 years ago. Today there are 16 schools of the air in Australia. Adelaide Miethke, a schoolteacher on the RFDS board, used her contacts there to to bring her idea to life. Ninety-five million years before that, something very different happened in the outback - a dinosaur stampede. Read on.
The outback has the only known fossilised dinosaur stampede in the world. We took a half-day tour to see it at Lark Quarry, 110km south of Winton in, you guessed it, western Qld. There are literally thousands of footprints preserved in the mudstone, mostly of chook-sized dinos fleeing a big predator. Think Boxing Day sales but with dinosaurs.
We got there on a dirt road in a ricketty van driven by Tanya, a local with kids a similar age to Michael and Susie. She told us about the Mitchell grass downs, channel country and jump-up (mesa) country we were driving through. Then she pulled the van over and broke some flowers off a gidgee acacia tree for us all to smell. Ew!