I can remember as a young boy, Mum, Dad, Lizzy and me going off to Brisbane to stay with Uncle Bill and Aunty Mavis for our school holiday. They had a house at the beach. We had never seen so much water. Going on holidays was a big deal. Mum would prepare for days, getting excited about the trip and stressing about everything she would forget. Dad didn’t seem to be as affected, he just knew to stay out of Mum’s way while the tornado that was Mum swept through the house.
“We are going to catch the train. The famous Flying Flea to Charleville” Dad would say. “They say that it goes so fast that the only time it’s on the tracks is when it crossed them. She was the fastest timed passenger train in Queensland. The driver would open her up to get ahead of the timetable, so he could have a cuppa tea and biscuits before the next leg.” Dad was very impressed with the “Flying Flea”.
A two hour dusty, dry trip to the train. We knew it was going to take a long time. Dad just hoped the car would make the trip, not like last time. We spent as much time on the side of the road waiting for it to cool down as we did on the road getting to Quilpie. When the steam was going over the bonnet like a mist it was time to pull over and let it cool down. The water would drip from the old radiator. Dad would cover his hand with an old shirt and attack the radiator cap like a gunner about to take the hill. Come in low and reach up with his covered hand. He knew if it was too hot, it would explode like a geyser and boiling water would go everywhere. After 15 minutes to cool down, he would refill the water tank with cool water and we would be back on our way. The water cans took up as much space as the luggage.
We arrived at Quilpie train station around lunch time, I remember it was hot and dusty, not a lot of shade at the station. The train had arrived early and people were getting off, unloading their bags. “keep together” Mum would say. Quilpie station with 30 people was like an invasion. Too many people in one place for Mum’s liking.
The train was full today. Two coaches filled with footy fans excited for the three hour trip to Charleville. Depending on the outcome of the game, and how many drinks they had, the return trip may not have been as exciting. The local Constable at Quilpie was quick to send them home if they mucked up too much.
The tracks head Northeast out of town. I could see some penny’s on the track with two local boys standing back trying to be invisible but determined not to take their eyes off the coins.
We were changing to the western line for Brisbane. Nearly 600miles, but we could get there in one day. Mum had water and snacks for the trip, Mum never left home without snacks. “We’re on holidays!” Mum said excitedly, let the journey begin.
Overland, following the creeks, now dry, blistered and cracked. Trying to find the water at the next well. The stock routes are rigid, surveyed and numbered, but that doesn’t make the path any easier to travel. It’s 47°C in January West of Quilpie. The hot desert sun, with nothing for shade but your hat. The drover’s horse and his beasts lifting dust.
If you deviate from the stock routes over rock, dirt and red dust, the heat will take you down and the dust will cover you up. Like Burke and Wills, your future is certain, an expedition will be sent to find you if they can. Without water, your fate is sealed, nothing lives out here without water. We should get 15″ per year, we must have missed our issue a couple of times.
We pass sapling of Mulga, the desserts hardy tree, it’s rooted deep into the ground to survive the 40°C+ above. The Aborigines use this bush tree to make tools and weapons, a bunch of clever buggers to survive out here in this bush. A wooden shanty on the bank from a time when there was water. What I would do for some water now.
One more day to the Bulloo River with a water hole or two getting close. I was 16 when I left home and went droving in South West Queensland. Our only mode of travel was on horseback and usually leading a packhorse. There were three of us and the cook, (who had to look after the corned beef and damper as well as the plant horses.) We were responsible for the herd. We would pickup 600 to a 1000 fats from Mt Margaret, Eromanga and drive them to the rail head in Quilpie. From there they would travel to Tancred Bros Meat works in Beaudesert.
You don’t move at a fast pace with that many animals. Through the night we did shifts of two hours and forty minutes each. I had what we called the “pee and poo” watch around midnight. It wasn’t too bad because once the cattle bedded down for the night they didn’t move, which meant that I could doze on the back of my horse, and I think the horse slept as well. The station ran 6000 head of cattle and 80,000 sheep.
At tucker time we would sit around the fire, talk, eat and then sleep. Some of the stories they would tell. If I complained about the heat or how dry it was, the old buggers would always come back with “Nothing like the drought of 1904”!
Getting dressed in her finest frock. Mum brushing her hair, it’s a big day for our Lizzy, Young Matty is going to pop the question. He came and asked Pa’s permission. Pa wasn’t too pleased, no ones good enough for our Lizzy. They have only been together for the last 12 months and there are not too many opportunities for a young bush girl to meet her man. Young Matty was a good worker, and his Dad, “Doser” was a good bloke.
Pa’s pacing the floor, his little girl and young Matty, Dosers Son “engaged”, he was saying under his breath.
He’s a good worker, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be good for my Lizzy May. She has dreams of the day she will be lifted away from the dirt and the bush, but young Matty still works with his dad, that’s not the life my Lizzy dreams of. She is always dreaming of the city and the shopping, that’s not going to happen with young Matty. It will be more of the same, hard work, hot and dry, little income and not many fancy things.
But we were doing OK. Maybe they will do OK too. We kept a roof over our heads. Three little ones are growing strong. Horses, dogs, chickens and cows, a few sheep. We don’t go hungry often and we will still be close if they need us.
He’s on one knee, “can you hear what he’s saying”? Pa said.
“Get your heads back in the door, and keep quiet,” said Mum.
He’s pulled out the ring, “What did he say” ? said Pa.
“Quiet, I’m trying to listen,” said Mum.
“She’s taking her time making up her mind,” said Pa.
“Has she answered him yet”?