A journey through the Tropic of Capricorn – Part 3

This contemporary-styled monument – a large cube-shaped construct of dark wooden strips or panels contrasts greatly with the surrounding heritage buildings. Photo courtesy Garry Greenwood.

Almost 900km west along the Capricorn Highway from my starting point, Rockhampton, lies Barcaldine. The Tropic of Capricorn hovers 10km further to the north, and the ever-present rail-line lies a few meters to my right. I haven’t seen a single train since the Blackwater coalfields far to the east.

As I enter Barcaldine, on Oak Street, I am immediately struck by the sight of the magnificent Tree of Knowledge Memorial, located between the main street and the railway station. This contemporary-styled monument — a large cube-shaped construct of dark wooden strips or panels contrasts greatly with the surrounding heritage buildings and the pervasive flatness of the terrain. It all but protrudes onto the street, making its presence and significance impossible to ignore.

On Oak Street, is the sight of the magnificent Tree of Knowledge Memorial. Photo courtesy Garry Greenwood.
On Oak Street, is the sight of the magnificent Tree of Knowledge Memorial. Photo courtesy Garry Greenwood.
This contemporary-styled monument – a large cube-shaped construct of dark wooden strips or panels contrasts greatly with the surrounding heritage buildings. Photo courtesy Garry Greenwood.
This contemporary-styled monument – a large cube-shaped construct of dark wooden strips or panels contrasts greatly with the surrounding heritage buildings. Photo courtesy Garry Greenwood.

Its story began around 1891 when Barcaldine was bristling with anarchy. It was the year of the great Shearers Strike wherein more than 1,000 protesting shearers marched in the streets of Barcaldine. The shade provided by that large Eucalyptus tree, between the main street and the railway station, became their meeting place from where they continued their campaign for better pay and conditions.

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Out of this long-lasting dispute grew the Australian Labor Party and Unionism. The Tree became legendary for the role it played in protecting the shearers from the torrid Capricorn sun and uniting the shearers. It became known as the Tree of Knowledge. Alas, in 2006 the Tree was poisoned by persons unknown and eventually died.

In recognition of the role this Tree and Barcaldine played in the formation of Australian politics and working conditions, the new memorial was constructed over the skeletal remains of the Knowledge Tree. It was completed in 2009. It’s magnificent!

The Tropic of Capricorn holds many stories and surprises. It was here in Barcaldine that I had my first encounter with the Great Artesian Basin — a massive underground fresh water source trapped under a quarter of the Australian land mass. Here in town, the cold water taps always run warm much like the warm-heartedness of the people I encountered.

One of Banjo Paterson’s poems reminds us of the often times when the rains don’t provide out here:

“Now the stock have started dying, for the Lord has sent a drought; but we’re sick of prayers and providence — we’re going to do without… If the Lord won’t send us water, oh, we’ll get it from the devil: yes, we’ll get it from the devil, deeper down.”

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Space won’t allow me to cover all Barcaldine has to offer, but all the creature comforts and more are here.

A mere 28km from the end of my 1,000km journey, and fading under the Tropic of Capricorn, is Ilfracombe, a tiny artesian spa village.

This is the hometown of our recent Governor-General, Quentin Bryce. How she managed to migrate from such a small and remote outback village to the highest office in our nation leaves me bewildered. Her amazing ascendency is a wonderful example of achievement in our land of opportunity. There must be a feature film here begging to be told.

Along Ilfracombe’s main street, vintage vehicles and vintage farm machinery are proudly lined up, all newly painted in bright colours to attract attention — and so they do. It’s an amazing visual reminder of a bygone era. This display stretches for over 500m.

Finally I reach my journey’s end — Longreach. The first thing I notice is the Jumbo Jet parked unusually close to the highway. You can’t miss it on your right. This is the focal point of the Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Service founders museum. I wonder how many of us know that QANTAS is simply an acronym for the aforementioned air service — a service which began in 1920 with a single biplane taking passengers and mail between Charleville and Cloncurry in outback Queensland. Look at them now!

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Immediately across the highway, on your left, is the fabled Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame. It’s a beautiful building which pays a fitting tribute to Australia’s outback stockmen and women who opened up our vast and arid interior. Here, there are also exhibits by the Flying Doctor’s Service, various artefacts, shops and cafes.

"Come on!" Photo courtesy Garry Greenwood.
“Come on!” Photo courtesy Garry Greenwood.

A little further down the highway; we haven’t actually reached town yet, is the legendary School of the Air. As you continue a little further you come to Eagle Street — the main commercial street in town. On your left on the corner are the Council Chambers, and in their front garden stands the marker depicting the exact location of the Tropic of Capricorn as it divides the hot Torrid Zone from the cooler Temperate Zone.

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Nowadays Longreach has become a tourist mecca for those seeking to savour and experience our great outback. There are hotels, motels and restaurants to suit every budget and taste. There is also a wide variety of tours on offer ranging from four-wheel drive, aerial and helicopter tours to leisurely paddleboat cruises on the Thomson River.

What inspired me most on my Capricorn journey were the powerful stories of the people who, striving against all manner of adversities and disadvantage, managed to achieve so much both personally and for our Nation — all beneath our Tropic of Capricorn.

The Tropic of Capricorn revealed magnificent stories of people. Photo courtesy Garry Greenwood.
The Tropic of Capricorn revealed magnificent stories of people. Photo courtesy Garry Greenwood.

Could it be that these far horizons instil the big dreams in the minds of those who inhabit this region?

These then, I see as the lucky inhabitants of our great country.

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