16 Oct 2012 LONGREACH
A week after Simon agreed the dates for me to visit him and Nicole in Longreach, I set off on the 1250km drive and fell in love with the outback all over again. My stay coincided with the last days of the tourism season, so all the local attractions were open. The Qantas Founders Museum is a fun place to visit and for that reason seems like a really good workplace. It was lovely at last being with Simon and Nicole for an extended period and seeing how much they were enjoying their married life in Longreach.
Unlike my first foray into the interior on a road trip with Simon 25 years ago, when I was new in the country, the ranges had good grass cover instead of being baked. On the journey I delighted in seeing Queensland Bottle Trees, some of wondrous girth, growing in paddocks or lining the streets of towns. Other than a number in Blackall, a faint echo of the magnificent avenues in Charleville, I did not notice them north of Auguthella. It was only well after Mitchell, where I broke my journey, that I saw my first wild emu in many years. Regrettably, the road kill beyond Toowomba was appalling, flocks of crows giving way to flocks of kites, the further west I ventured.
I undertook several excursions from Longreach. On the trip to Lochern National Park with Simon, we saw 3 emu chicks and an adult male. The chicks put on an impressive display of speed in keeping up with the male as they ran away from us, even though we had slowed to a standstill. At a waterhole in the park I had my first close look at a Coolibah tree and added it to my list of favourites. We also saw a flock of budgerigars, which took me competely by surprise as I never expected them to be this far from Australia’s centre. The most emu chicks I sighted in a group was 7. On the way to Muttaburra I was thrilled to come across my first Australian Bustard by the side of the dirt road, a large, stately bird moving with slow deliberation into the Mitchell grass. Thereafter I had the pleasure of regularly seeing Bustards.
On the way back I stopped at Lily Lagoon, named after a species of nymphaea water lily which is only found around Longreach and is awaiting listing as a separate species. A couple were about to leave when I pulled up. The lady lamented the fact that they had not seen any of the lilies, though my understanding was that they were in bloom at this time of year. I drove further up the track and beheld a large flowering lily close to the bank. It was white and I realised that the white shapes the couple and I had seen on the opposite shore were not resting birds, but lilies. The lady had seen them after all without realising it. I paid repeated visits to the lagoon which became my special Longreach place and gradually grew acquainted with its rich birdlife. One afternoon I noted a White-faced and a Pacific Heron foraging on a mudbank, a Great Egret, Sacred Ibis, Little Black Cormorants, Black-fronted Dotterel, a Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Black Kite, Fairy Martin and a pair of Brolgas. The identity of a medium sized bird, present in large numbers, eluded me. And on each visit I marvelled at the Coolibah trees on the bank, their roots reaching for the water like some giant mangrove.
Muttaburra’s main claim to fame is the large dinosaur discovered there in 1963. The first of a number excavated in the state’s central west, with dinosaur exhibtions at Winton, Richmond and Hughenden. We went to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, located on a jump-up or mesa only 75 metres above the plain near Winton, but with stupendous views. The museum exhibits fossils dug up in the vicinity, meaning between 65 and 100 km away. Entry includes a tour of the laboratory which is part of the complex. The first thing we saw were shelves weighed down with 30 years worth of future work in the form of plaster cases containing dinosaur bones covered by earth. In the laboratory proper, staff and volunteers were enaged in the painstaking work of cleaning bone fragments using dental probes and compressed air, before embarking on the tortuous process of re-assembling the fragments as close to complete bones as possible. After overnighting in Winton we drove to Lark Quarry to see the renowned Dinosaur Stampede, reputedly the only one of its kind on the planet. Current thinking is turning the 3,000 odd foot prints or tracks, from a stampede into a river crossing. Either way, the impact of being at the site of an event which occurred some 95 million years ago is profoundly moving. The quarry itself is a remote and beautiful place.