‘I saw the real effects of bushfires and droughts on our hard-working farmers’

Aug 22, 2020
Sunset over Lockyer Valley, in South East Queensland, Australia. Source: Getty

A few days away late last year saw our travel plans interrupted by bushfires in the Stanthorpe region. You may have read about them. Our journey down the Range from Toowoomba through the Lockyer Valley was an eye-opener. The evidence of drought was clearly visible with brown, barren paddocks as far as the eye could see, and a smoke haze from the bushfires that was indistinguishable from the dust storms littered with topsoil from the farmlands. Road visibility was limited.

After several weeks of light rain the Lockyer Valley is now looking greener and most of the creeks are running. Yet our farmlands are a long way from being productive. The new purpose-built backpacker accomodation designed to house up to 3,000 farm workers at Grantham has a current occupancy rate of 600.

Let’s continue on our road trip. As American author, Victoria Erickson, said, “Road trips are the equivalent of human wings. Ask me to go on one, anywhere. We’ll stop in every small town and learn the history and stories, feel the ground, and capture the spirit. Then we’ll turn it into own story that will live inside our history to carry with us, always. Because stories are more important than things”.

Forest Hill

This is the quintessential country town with its war memorial and historic monument in the middle of the town park. There is also a picnic table and gas barbeque and two country pubs – one with a delightful beer garden. All that was missing was the mongrel dog.

The historic buildings have been given new life thanks to trendy cafes and boutique gift stores. Take a walk along the street and enjoy.
Cafe 4342 does great meals, from breakfasts till afternoon teas, utilising produce sourced from surrounding townships. Located in the historic Post Office built in 1908, I challenge you not to purchase something else on your way out.

Queenies, a co-operative run by locals, is full of artisan items, such as jewellery, wood carvings and homemade condiments. I was informed by Beth that two years ago retail outlets operating in the street were reduced to three due to the drought. The numbers are slowly increasing.

A Dash of Rural Luxury

I spent an evening of rural luxury at Branell Homestead in Laidley. What used to be recognised as five-star Bed and Breakfast accomodation is now popular for functions and wedding receptions. The three separate cottages, each accomodating up to six adults, that sit high on the hill allow for sweeping views across the valley. Comfortable with exquisite views across the valley.

Branell Homestead. 12 Paroz Road, Laidley. www.branell.com.au Phone: 07 54651788

At dinner on the verandah of the Homestead I chatted with Dave and Patti Pocock, crop farmers in the Valley for over thirty years.

The Pococks had already experienced the wrath of extreme weather events starting with the devastating 2011 floods before experiencing drought. The last three years of cropping have failed, which not only caused economic hardship but created deeper issues. Dave said that he “would wake up each morning with nothing to do”. If I know anything about farmers it is that being idle doesn’t sit well!

Like so many of the Lockyer Valley farming community that I met the Pococks have retained their positivity and passion for their district, happily sharing information about the museums, art galleries and festivals that showcase the area.

And just like so many others they too have had to diversify. They now run two country retreats, one of which is Stockton Rise, a three-bedroomed house on a rural block that would make the perfect base for a stay in the Valley, for either a family or friends. Fresh air and a deck where you can sit back with a cheese platter and watch the sunset.

Stockton Rise Country Retreat, 23 Glen Cairn Road, Glen Cairn www.stocktonrise.com.au Phone: 0418 778 312

Time For A Pick Me Up

The Plainland Hotel, affectionately known as the Windmill on the Warrego, is a fine country hotel that 105 years ago served as the family home. This is the perfect first port of call if you’ve travelled from Brisbane or the coast. You can sit on the expansive deck taking in the views. You might want to take in a cake too. Cooked on the premises daily they are to die for.

Now run by the third generation of the Porter family, and employing up to 80 staff, the hotel provides breakfasts, lunches and dinners  seven days a week, using locally-sourced seasonal produce and ingredients.

I was really impressed by two things – well, three, if you include the cakes. First, their Senior’s Meal Lunch Menu comes with a pot of tap beer, pot of soft drink, or a small cup of tea or coffee. The accomodation includes a range of rooms including a Mobility Access Room. Although our bodies may be getting weary we still have things to do and places to go, don’t we?

66 Laidley-Plainland Rd, Plainland. www.portersplainland.com.au Phone: 07 5465 6547

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

Scotty’s Garage is a showcase of automotive memorabilia with vintage cars and motorbikes and everything in between, such as pumps, petrol signs and workshop tools. Thank goodness I was travelling solo or my partner would still be lusting over the 1939 Lincoln Zephyr and Indian motorcycle.

Scotty’s also includes a replica 1950s diner with dance floor, jukebox and pinball machines. I have to admit I spent time searching for The Fonz.

When the senses are ready for a rest you can cross the lawn to The Barn for a homemade Devonshire Tea or lunch. Ginger and walnut scones – perfect.

1709 Flagstone Creek Rd, Upper Flagstone. www.thebarnandscottysgarage.com.au Phone: 07 4697 5334

I hope that you’ve enjoyed meeting some of our farmers and sites of the Lockyer Valley. I’ll be off again soon. So much to see and so little time.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland, which included accommodation, tours and excursions. However, none of the parties reviewed or approved this blog and the opinions contained within are the author’s own.

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