Exhilarated and determined, we started our trip at Townsville after having driven south again from the tropical Cape Tribulation. We were so excited, we told everyone about our endeavours. It was slightly disconcerting however to hear one old Australian bloke at a caravan park scoff and say ’well your car may survive the outback but you certainly won’t.’ Great comment to make to a young couple of travellers who are all ready to set off into the middle of nowhere in our charming yet troublesome 35 year old Land Rover. We were certainly optimistic. We left Townsville and a couple of muggy and sticky hours later, we approached a little town called Charters Towers which was formerly known as ‘the World’. It gave us the distinct impression of a wild western town; there was a quaint shop with an oversized ornate cowboy boot hanging above the entrance. Everything appeared as though it was locked in a time warp and we were now reliving Western American history. I was half expecting a tribe of Red Indians to merge out of the distance behind a cloud of whirling smoke and unleash a storm of arrows upon an army of gunned cowboys. There were old men chatting and guffawing outside a tavern, sipping pints of ale and sporting the appropriate attire: cowboy hats and chequered shirts. As we ambled down the street (we had to get out of the car and immerse ourselves in ‘the World’) I spotted newspaper cuttings in shop windows dating back to the second world war (Australia evidently trying to cling on to any shred of history they have.) The headline news of one paper proudly reported how the weather had improved in Queensland so ‘graziers could look to the sky in relief’ and continue their cattle farming. That made headline news?!
Matty and I trailed around and wound up in a shop that looked somewhat out of place beside the tavern and optometrist. Before we knew it, we were being roped into blowing a further 300 bucks on a UHF radio in the event of a breakdown in the outback. After what seemed like a lifetime in that shop and convinced we now knew every bloody radio and its function, we traipsed back to the car feeling 300 dollars lighter but comforted by the fact we had some channel (or 80 channels) of communication to rely on in the event of something going drastically wrong on the road.
We continued the long drive through a remote village called Prairie, where the population size amounted to about 10. There was a school which resembled more of a glorified shed with a few swings rocking ominously in the back. A windmill that you would normally expect to find on a wild west ranch stood tall in the distance amidst a few tinned-roof houses and a questionable caravan park that was more of a small patch of grass. Matty’s suggestion to stay the night in Prairie and drink with the locals seemed almost amusing at the time but now that I sit here in our final stop for today, Hughenden, another barren town with a population size that surely amounts to less than double digits, I almost wish I took him up on the suggestion. We camped at the back of a motel called Rest Easi (an ironic task for an English student or grammar nerd) and it was there that I had my first encounter with outback wildlife after sharing a toilet with a beady-eyed, green tree frog.