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JOHN ROZENTALS discovers life in a slow lane in Outback Queensland … and no sign of a legendary dog.

April 7, 2018 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email

Before I visited Central-Western Queensland a few weeks ago I knew only two things about the small Outback town of Barcaldine.

One was that a remarkable dog was a once-frequent visitor to one of the half dozen or so pubs that lined the main street … remarkable because he ate rocks, but only rocks that would fit through the gap in its teeth.

I admit to knowing nothing about how it got the gap in its teeth or what eventually happened to the dog, though my suspicion has always been that it didn’t meet a particularly attractive end.

The other was that Barcy (pronounced ‘Barky’) was home to the Tree of Knowledge, meeting place in 1891 of some 3000 shearers in the great strike of the time … and widely recognised as the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party.

I’m sure that the poisoning of the tree in 2006 only hardened the convictions of the true believers.

The spirit of the Outback … it’s International Women’s Day … and time for lunch in Barcaldine’s historic Commercial Hotel.

Our small group of visiting travel writers was given a guided tour of the town by its Mayor, Rob Chandler, and Brett Walsh, the Acting CEO of Barcaldine Shire Council, who both made the tree their centre of attention.

They had their suspicions about who had done the dastardly deed of 2006 but insufficient evidence to back them in legal channels, and they were rightly mighty proud of the how Barcaldine had rallied to build an even more substantial monument to its great role in Australian political history.

Now surrounded by timber that forms the ‘the world’s largest wind chime’, remnants of the tree have been given a new lease of life, one which is lit in blue in the evenings.

Barcaldine Shire Mayor Rob Chandler at the Tree of Knowledge … immensely proud of how the town has come together.

The new commemoration zone in the main street also features a permanent monument to the strikers who were gaoled during the 1891 strike, and is the focal point the Barcy’s annual festival and associated May Day March.

A few days later we’re on our way to Ilfracombe, which was on the path of the torch relay for this year’s Commonwealth Games, and which hence provided a sound-enough purported reason for my first visit to Queensland’s Outback.

Our host for that past few days, Dion Stent-Smith, has driven ahead with our luggage, while his wife Lane gives us a final tour of Shandonvale and the chance to say goodbye to a few of her ‘pets’, but theirs is another story I’ll tell in coming weeks.

Locals and visitors gather outside Ilfracombe’s Wellshot Hotel to welcome the Commonwealth Games torch relay.

Then it’s aboard a couple of choppers for the 20-minute flight to a welcoming cold beer, some lunch … and a look at that torch.

If Barcy is a metropolis of 1500, with some half dozen pubs, Ilfracombe is a village of about 350 and just one pub — the legendary Wellshot Hotel.

It’s a great country pub — friendly enough for Dion to class as his ‘local’, despite the distance — with great atmosphere, good food … and, yes, the promise of the west’s coldest beer.

A permanent memorial to the jailed shearers from the great strike of 1891.

Features include a stunning wall of hats … mainly well used hats … and a ceiling lined with notes, hopefully destined to a worthy charity.

Oh, and nobody in Barcy seemed to recall the rock-eating dog. Perhaps it’s just a myth blurring my vision, but the Tree of Knowledge sure ain’t. It’s for real … and very, very important.

And another ‘Oh’. The population of Ilfracombe probably doubled for a look at the torch relay, and the locals were mighty chuffed at getting the chance to participate. Good one.

Time to celebrate … the torch arrives in the main street of Ilfracombe.

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Disclosure: John Rozentals was a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland.

The Tree of Knowledge in the main street of Barcaldine … still the focal point of an annual May Day March.

These days the Tree of Knowledge is surrounded by the ‘world’s largest wind chime’.

Written by  John Rozentals

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