Author Archives: Russ

Day 28 – Monday, 20 May 2024

We had a wonderful sleep in this morning and didn’t get up until 9:30am. The park is amazingly quiet considering how many people are here, and the majority of them left this morning, but we hardly heard any of them.

Of course, a lot more started to arrive around 12:30 or so.

Russ and I took the opportunity to have a thoroughly lazy day, and I have spent it catching up on correspondence and the diary.

Russ has checked out some of the places we want to visit and found out that a few have become very pricey. Time will tell when we visit the Information Centre tomorrow. We will also take the opportunity of getting a chiropractic visit in as one lives in Longreach, and it is almost a month (tomorrow) since we started out from home.

We are here in Longreach for seven days so I will have a chance of doing some cooking to put in the freezer. There is also an RSL whose meals look quite interesting, and a Chinese Restaurant.

Day 27 – Sunday, 19 May 2024

We woke up at 8:00 am and it was decidedly nippy, so we turned the heater on to warm the air.

It is another beautiful sunny day with clear skies, but the breeze is quite cool.

There is not a Woolworths store in our near future, and we have run out of our favourite Pana di Casa bread.

We are trying other types of bread that look interesting at the local bakeries, but nothing comes quite up to scratch – merely adequate.

We left the park at Blackall at 9:48 am, stopped to take some photos of water engines and the Roly Poly – a very large wire ball that looks like a loosely rolled skein of wool, but with plenty of spaces to see through it.

The Rushton Proctor twin cylinder portable stream engine was capable of approximately 10 horsepower (HP). This type of engine  was used to power shearing plants, pumps and drilling plants such as the percussion drilling plant displayed.

Timber for the steam engine would have been gathered from a nearby scrub. The drilling plant, manufactured by Boring Co Ltd is typical of those used to construct water bores.

The bore hole was created by way of a drill bit attached to a heavy tool bar, in turn attached to a winched wire cable. The cable was alternatively raised and then dropped and the bit on the toolbar end pulverized the rock beneath it.

After a number of drops of the drill bit, other tools were attached to the cable to clean loosened material out of the borehole.

We also emptied the hot water tank as it has been pulling the smelly water from the Artisan Basin, and Russ says it smells like rotten eggs. Sometimes there are advantages to not being able to smell everything. Hopefully the water at Longreach will be of a better quality.

We finally moved passed the rest of Blackall at 10:03 am after emptying the cassette at the dump point.

While I was taking photos Russ spoke with Mum to complain about the smelly water.

We had a tail wind pushing us to Longreach. The temperature is 15 degrees with a feels-like temperature of 4.9 degrees.

The continuing grasslands have become very dry now, and the scenery is much more like what we had expected it to be. Once we turned onto the A2 – Matilda Way – the road went back to being in fairly good condition all the way to Barcaldine.

We re-fuelled at Barcaldine, and it is the first tie on this trip that I have had to use the credit card machine at the unmanned truck stop.

I had been reading for one and a half hours up to this point and Russ and I both took the opportunity of a walk round before setting back on our way.

On this part of the journey, we are seeing a lot of roadkill, and the clean-up brigade is out on duty.

We arrived at Longreach at 1:00 pm but we are staying at the Muddy Duck Caravan Park out of town.  We were warmly welcomed by Peggy and Jack who are relieving the owners for a couple of weeks.

It is a very large park, but it has been set out beautifully. All the sites are drive through and from the air is looks a bit like a herringbone pattern. All the essentials, like water point and power outlets, are in good condition, and you can see the progress of the growth of the park by checking out the height of the plants between sites. In fact, they are working on extension still.

We had some afternoon tea and were both tired enough after our few hectic days to have an early night after watching the replay of the Pies versus Adelaide game.

Day 26 – Saturday, 18 May 2024

We left Charleville Caravan Park at 8:53 am on a sunny day, but one that started with a heavy dew on the windows.

Our alarm went off at the disgustingly early hour of 7:30 am. The sacrifices of sleep we make in order to see a football game.

A big thank you to Russ for all of his driving as I can sit back in leisure, but especially today when he got us to Blackall, and all set up before the game started.

The road to Blackall was fairly bumpy with a lot of undulations. It made reading to Russ just a bit of an experience, especially when I kept losing my place.

We didn’t get to spend much time exploring Blackall because of the football, but there are a few things worthy of mention.

Jackie Howe is a legend who lived and died in Blackall. His grave lies in the local cemetery. Howe was born at Killarney near Warwick, Queensland.

John Robert Howe (10 July 1861 – 21 July 1920) was a legendary Australian sheep shearer at the end of the 19th century. He shot to fame in pre-Federation Australia in 1892 when he broke the daily and weekly shearing records across the colonies.

On 10 October 1892, Howe had shorn 321 sheep in seven hours and 40 minutes at Alice Downs station, near Blackall, Queensland. This was a faster tally than any other shearer had achieved before.

In the week beforehand, Howe also set the weekly record, shearing 1,437 sheep in 44 hours and 30 minutes. Howe’s daily record was beaten by Ted Reick in 1950, but Reick was using machine shears, while Howe’s hand shears were little more than scissors.

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Howe’s weekly record stood unbeaten as of 2005 and as of October 2015, Howe’s record was reported as still unbeaten after 123 years.

Another piece of Australian folklore lies in Blackall – the original Black Stump.

Along our journey we passed through Tambo, originally named Carrangarra, and changed in 1868 to Tambo – Derived from an Indigenous word which means Hidden Place.

The locals were playing polo on the field as we went by.

On the edge of town lies a sombre yet historically significant landmark – the Qantas Crash Site Memorial. It stands as a poignant reminder of the moment in 1927 that marked the first crash of a Qantas aeroplane.

The site is located north of Tambo and can be found on the Coolibah Walk.

On 24 March in 1927 the mail plane piloted by Alan Douglas Davidson was on its regular route between Charleville and Mt Isa, via Tambo. In addition to the mail the plane was carrying two passengers, William Donaldson of Rocklands Station in Camooweal and Archibald Bell of Bellmore Station in Winton.

Tragically the plane crashed on the claypan near Tambo. Two of the men died at the scene of the crash with another lasting 12 more hours.

The men were buried at the ambo Cemetery and the plane was buried where it lay.

The rest of the journey continued through green grasslands.

We finally pulled up at the Blackall Caravan Park at 1:03 pm and I was greeted by Glen wearing his Collingwood t-shirt. I told him I was wearing my Magpie earrings, to which he replied that if he had been wearing his glasses, he would have seen them. Needless to say, we didn’t get a discount on our site fees for being fellow Pies supporters.

It was another fabulous game to watch, and I wondered if we were going to hang on in the last two minutes. Adelaide had come to play, and we always have a close game. Another week where we lost two players to injury and were down to three on the bench for half a game of footy. It was no wonder they looked very tired at the end.

The population of Blackall is 1600. Diesel is very expensive here so we will fill our tank from the jerry can and get us up to Barcaldine where it is a much more reasonable price.

Day 25 – Friday, 17 May 2024

We left the park at 10:30 am. We left the Secret World War 2 Base at 11:56 am with a head spinning with more information.

Before leaving the Museum, I bought 2 fishing shirts in the Air Force camouflage print – one for Russ, and one for me. At $50 each they are heaps cheaper than many of the other fishing shirts available.

I didn’t know that the Owen gun was invented in Australia. Also known officially as the Owen machine carbine, it was designed by Evelyn Owen in 1938. The Owen was the only entirely Australian-designed and constructed service submachine gun of World War II and was used by the Australian Army from 1942 until 1971.

The first prototype of the Owen gun was developed by Evelyn Owen in 1931, who finalised the design in 1938, when he was around 23. He submitted the design to the Australian military, but was rejected, as they were waiting for the British Sten to finish development.

By May 1940, Owen had enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force, and was set to deploy to the Middle East, but after speaking about his design to the manager of a local plant of Lysaght, who had an interest in the design, Owen was transferred to the Central Inventions Board.

In June 1941, Owen was discharged from the army and began to manufacture the Owen gun. After conducting tests in September that year, the Owen was found to be more accurate and reliable than competing designs such as the Sten and Thompson.

With the outbreak of WWI2 in the Pacific on 7 December 1941, the United States Army Air Corps USAAF arrived in Brisbane and developed Eagle Farm Airfield into a major aircraft erection depot where aircraft were assembled, repaired and serviced. The 81st Air Depot Group was the main unit based at Eagle Farm Airfield.

The Secret Base at Charleville was twice the size of Eagle Farm in Brisbane. At its peak, as well as the 3,500 American soldiers stationed here, there were also several units from the Australian Army and RAAF, as well as drivers from the Women’s National Emergency Legion (WNEL).

All in all, it might have been more appropriate to call Charleville the Top-Secret Allied Base as numerous Australian personnel also served there.

The American Lend-Lease Program established in 1941 laid the groundwork for the USA to provide allies with equipment, food and services to wage war, without them being involved in the war. This was before Pearly Harbour was bombed and the US went to war with Japan.

Under the Lend Lease agreement any equipment supplied by America was to be either shipped back to the US or destroyed. Under no circumstances was it to be kept by the military forces of the receiving nation or on-sold toother countries. This was to ensure that there was very little chance that it would be used against the US forces in the future.

It is also, in part, why there are so many stories of buried equipment wherever the US forces operated. In Townsville we heard that the inside of Castle Hill had been excavated and the US equipment was hauled inside and then rocks were dropped to cover the opening.

In Charleville they still think that much was buried around the place because the US forces in Charleville didn’t leave until 1947, and the thinking is it would have taken them that long to dispose of the equipment secretly.

In September 1942 the first Reverse Lend-Lease agreement was announced in Australia. In 1943 US President Frankling D Roosevelt reported to Congress that in the first nine months of the agreement Australia provided US forces with almost 28 million kilograms of meat.

Australian meat, milk, bread, fruit and vegetables kept Charleville soldiers on their feet and in the skies.

By June 1945 the following had been supplied to and gobbled up by US Forces.

Butter                     35,000 long tons (a long ton weighs in at 1,106 kilograms.)

Canned Goods       87,000 long tons

Eggs                      660 million+

Bread, Biscuits and Cereal        231,400 long tons

Sugar                     79,200 long tons

Vegetables and Fruit       212,000 long tons

Milk (condensed and evaporated)                 38,000 long tons

Meat                                179,800 long tons

Milk (fresh)                      106,660,000 litres

Potatoes                           74,800 long tons

“Yank” was a magazine published by the US Military during WW2. It was written by soldiers, for soldiers, and was initially only made available to US Army overseas. It was never made available for public purchase.

The Yank’s circulation eventually exceeded 2.5 million in 41 countries with 21 editions. The last Issue was 28 December 1945.

Camouflage nets were handmade by local Country Women’s Association (CWA). Volunteers estimated that it took up to 8 hours to complete one net. Net making classes for volunteers were held in the Red Cross rooms every Monday night and Friday afternoon.

The Japanese-plane nickname system came into common usage throughout the Allied air forces. A different name was assigned to each aircraft as it became known to exist, and common first names were chosen.

As forces collaborated, a little confusion might ensue. When Australian WNEL mechanics and drivers arrived at Charleville base, the American officers had no idea why the women had been sent.

Upon their arrival and meeting with the Commanding Officer (CO) the women were left with the decided impression that women couldn’t be expected to drive without wrecking cars.

After they had been operating for a month or so the Americans had to admit that some women could drive, and the CO was agreeable surprised to find that vehicles operated by WNEL operatives required less repair than those driven by men (how amazing – NOT).

American soldiers who came to Australia were warned that Rest and Relaxation drinking needed to be done carefully as Australian beer had a higher alcohol content than they were used to drinking, and the can of beer in Australia held more volume than US ones.

Charleville had air raid shelters in back yards and slit trenches on the main street. Many of the trenches inevitably filled with water, mud, toads, snakes and mosquitoes. Residents recall that when hearing the air raid sirens sound that people would often yell – “Quick! Quick! Jump ion your Shelter” to which other responded with “Yes, and swim fer me bloody life!”

The secrecy of the Charleville base heightened tension and suspicions. Unfamiliar shadows, scratching sounds and tormenting wind all increased the paranoia of servicemen on guard duty, especially at night.

In 1942, hearing such a strange noise in the dark, a US soldier killed more than 20……goats! They had escaped from a nearby property. The owner was offered an undisclosed amount in compensation.

The first Aboriginal Fighter Pilot was 18-year-old Warrant Officer Leonard Waters (1924 – 1993). He was Australia’s only Aboriginal fighter pilot, and his P40 Kittyhawk fighter was named Black Magic.

On one flight his aircraft was struck a Japanese cannon shell, which wedged itself in the cockpit without detonating. It was still intact when he landed two hours later.

Sadly, at the end of the war, he never found work that matched his skills and experience. He applied for a civilian pilot’s licence but was rejected five times because of his Aboriginality.

He never flew again and died five years to the day of his joining the RAAF in Cunnamulla – 206 kilometres south of Charleville. At the end of the war, he had completed over 90 missions.

The Aboriginal Lady driver was called Gladys Saunders who was born in 1929, grew up in Charleville, and her father was a professional dingo catcher and fisherman. In December 1943 she claimed to be almost 18 (but was only 14) and enlisted in the WNEL, and subsequently employed by the US Army. She had been previously rejected by the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and had been told “her kind weren’t needed to serve”.

In the WNEL she drove trucks and buses and was trained in servicing the vehicles.

After Leanard Waters was discharged from the services he came to r birthday party in February 1946, proposed to her and they were married 12 days later. Len’s mother was a good friend of Gladys’ father, and Len had kept her photo in his plane.

By the end of the war, at least 3 Charleville women would marry US servicemen. More than 7,000 Queensland women would marry US servicemen and continue their lives in the US.

The Japanese had many different types of aircraft, and all of these needed to be able to be identified by those who kept watch on the skies.

To keep the plan simple:

  • male names were given to fighters and float planes;
  • female names to bombers, reconnaissance aircraft and flying boats;
  • names beginning with T were given to the few transport planes in the Japanese inventory,
  • trainers were given names of trees,
  •  gliders given names of birds.

I was able to change the sheets and do the washing which had dried after tea.

Day 24 – Thursday, 16 May 2024

We woke up to a light drizzle, but it cleared away fairly soon and left the sky overcast. We left the park at 10:38am to head back into Charleville for the Secret World War 2 tour.

All I can say is that it is amazing what politicians managed to sweep under the carpet in those early years. Charleville’s role in the Second World War could have been lost forever if not for a proposed industrial estate in 2009 unwittingly uncovering the town’s mysterious history.

Those were the days when people were constantly reminded that Loose Lips Sink Ships etc. 1942 marked the arrival of the American Soldiers in Charleville during WWII, and the people of Charleville were sworn to secrecy forever. It is only that some of the information regarding those days has been released from US Top-Secrets, and the people of Charleville are learning more of their past history by applying for Freedom of Information materials.

The plan was to commandeer the Charleville airport and set up a Top-Secret base which covered an area of approximately 25 sq. kilometres south of Charleville. They would construct 101 buildings and station up to 3,500 USAAF (United States Army Air Force) personnel at the base. The Australian Government agreed to a 100 Year Lease of the land, which effectively made it US territory in the centre of Queensland – and there is still 14 years left before it reverts back to Australia.

Luke Painter was our tour guide on the tag-along tour. His camouflaged ex-Australian Army jeep was registered as RSL 470.

While we were waiting in the car for others to join us an older man came moseying along to Russ’ window to start chatting. He began with “Go Pies” and finished by saying as a Pies supporter his car was also black and white.

Charleville was considered a whistle-stop town, encircled by red dirt and mulga scrub, but it played a key role in the nation’s defence during the Pacific campaign. So clandestine was Uncle Sam’s presence in Charleville between 1942 and 1946, that some locals – sworn to oaths of secrecy – took the knowledge to the grave.

But poke around the town airport, once host to the first Qantas passenger flight, and you’ll find traces of the military alliance that saw a 25-kilometre square parcel of Aussie soil requisitioned by US forces.

When war broke out, Charleville already had a strong aviation reputation. The pastoral town, 745 kilometres west of Brisbane, was a regular refuelling stop for planes crossing the continent. It had hosted world-famous aviators and in 1922, welcomed the first Qantas passenger service, from Charleville to Cloncurry.

In World War II, fearing invasion from the north and resolving to protect its citizens below the ‘Brisbane line’, Australia appealed to the US. The Americans responded.

The first troops arrived in Sydney in March 1942 aboard the RMS Queen Mary – a journey detailed at Charleville’s WWII Secret Base Museum. The interactive museum charts Charleville’s strategic role in the war, and the US spending $1.4 million (in yesterday’s money) to build a covert base.

The mission was so secret, troops were told they were being deployed to Hawaii. Imagine their shock when they arrived in outback mulga country, where the only saltwater comes from the beads on your forehead.

Why Charleville? The reason is partly practical: the airstrip was an existing refuelling and servicing hub, and planes do better in dry climates. But mostly it was strategic: Charleville is extremely remote and eluded radar detection.

The air force intended to operate gravel airstrips, but the dust became a hazard in summer. They experimented with oil sprays and even molasses, before resorting to bitumen.

Rock was quarried from a site 12 kilometres out of town – now a popular waterhole and campsite – and used to construct three airstrips, two remain international standard today, and are used by the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service.

The tour explores six sites littered around the airport on roads that were formerly taxiways. The old aircraft hangar (the only one of seven remaining) was where up to 250 B17 bombers were marshalled during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The moisture-retaining mulga branches were sewn into camouflage nets made of chicken wire that were pulled across the airstrip after each landing and take-off.

We viewed the concrete foundations of the old mess, aircraft revetments and the latrine and shower blocks, where soldiers used high-raised shower heads in an attempt to cool the bore water, which runs at a scalding 50C in summer.

More eye-opening still are the bitumen baths, small dugout trenches where troops were required to bathe in a chemical solution – sheep dip-style – to combat ticks and lice.

At the dance hall, tales were told of soldier-civilian fraternisation and of the Charleville women lavished with exotic spreads of burgers, fries and ice-cream, made by airmen agitating buckets of cream at high altitude. Many of these women had come to the Outback to man the Stations while the men fought overseas.

Revetments areas were constructed by clearing the area of vegetation to the shape of the aircraft it was to house. The soils were compacted with road base and rolled so the planes would not become bogged.

The tour culminates in a visit to Building 14, housing the most classified asset of the Charleville base – the Norden Bombsight. Hidden in an underground concrete vault – listed in the original blueprints as a “dental facility” – the bombsight was a complex bomb-targeting machine and a prized US weapon used in the bombing of Hiroshima and up until the Vietnam War. 

Bombardiers would handcuff themselves to the bombsight, hide it under canvass and covertly install the device before training missions. They were under orders to protect it with their lives. (With thanks for much of this information from the Brisbane Times as there was only so much information I could remember from the talks – Luke surely could talk and had so many incredible facts at his fingertips.)

The refuelling depots were below the surface – a lesson that Americans learnt from Pearl Harbour. Each plane was assigned its own maintenance crew, and the entire base was under guard by US soldiers both day and night.

Luke believes, from information told to him by his grandparents who lived through these times, that there are underground bunkers all over the area around Charleville. Some have equipment for maintenance purposes, some have plane parts, and others have ammunition. But if war strikes again, they will be available to dig up.

The idea was that if Australia had to enforce the Brisbane Line the people would be evacuated to Charleville by train, and the base would then be used to fight against the Japanese who would be on Australian soil. The Americans could not afford to let the Japanese get hold of the natural resources within Australia.

Apparently, the locals are still uncovering information about the base and its operations. The entire area of the base was mapped out with water supply piping, and fire hydrants were sprinkled around. We saw several of these today and were told that they are still in operation, but the SES and Fire Service use the water to fight fires.

There is an Air Raid Shelter at Eulo. It was built in WW2 by then store proprietor, Hilton Newsham to protect Eulo residents in the event of an attack by the Japanese. It was a government project and Eulo was chosen as a site for the safety shelter as it was on the direct flight path from Darwin to Melbourne and was a communication link used to wire information between the two locations.

The design of the shelter is known as an Anderson Air Raid Shelter. Consisting of heavy-gauge corrugated steel curved over a trench, it was originally covered in sandbags and had grass growing around it to appear as a dog kennel. Inside, 50 people could take refuge standing up. Many other air raid shelters were built in other areas around Charleville.

Incidentally, there actually was a Battle of Brisbane during the Second World War, but this was between Australian soldiers, civilians and US servicemen.

Battle of Brisbane, (November 26–27, 1942), was two nights of rioting in Brisbane, between Australians and American servicemen stationed there during World War II.

Within days of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. military planners began examining the possibility of pursuing the war against Japan from a base in the southwest Pacific.

On December 14, 1941, Brig. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed the construction of a military installation in Australia, and that plan was approved three days later by U.S. Army chief of staff George Marshall.

On December 22 a convoy led by the USS Pensacola disembarked more than 4,000 troops at Hamilton Wharf in Brisbane. Nearly one million U.S. troops would pass through Australia between 1941 and 1945, roughly 80,000 of whom were stationed in Brisbane at the height of the war.

Brisbane’s population in December 1940 was estimated at 335,000; the American presence in the city would have a significant demographic impact. Initially the U.S. troops were greeted warmly. Indeed, many African American troops related that throughout their deployment in Australia they had received better treatment from Australians than from their countrymen.

In March 1942 U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was ordered to Australia from the Philippines. The following month he was appointed commander of all Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific theatre, and in July he moved his headquarters from Melbourne to Brisbane.

MacArthur’s first major operation as supreme commander was the defence of New Guinea after a Japanese invasion force threatened Port Moresby.

Under extremely harsh conditions and lacking even the most basic provisions, outnumbered Australian troops under Gen. Sir Sydney Rowell fought gallantly, ultimately halting the Japanese advance about 32 miles (50 km) from Port Moresby.

MacArthur made no secret of his belief that the Australian troops lacked spirit, however, and in September 1942 he ordered Rowell relieved of command. The action sparked widespread resentment of MacArthur among the Australian forces, an opinion that would not recede with time.

In Brisbane, tensions began to rise between American troops and Australian civilians and servicemen. The Battles of Midway (June 3–6, 1942) and Guadalcanal (begun August 7, 1942) had effectively checked Japan’s advance in the Pacific, and Queensland was no longer under threat of Japanese invasion.

Many echoed a sentiment voiced by Londoners during the American “occupation” of Britain—American GIs were “overpaid, oversexed, and over here.”

American enlisted personnel were paid twice as much as their Australian counterparts, and the dress uniforms of American enlisted men were more stylish than those of Australian officers.

In addition, U.S. personnel had exclusive access to the well-stocked American PX (Postal Exchange) canteen in Brisbane’s central business district. The American Canteen sold cigarettes, alcohol, chocolate, and other luxury items that were either heavily rationed, prohibitively expensive, or simply unavailable to Australians.

The stark inequalities between the two different armed forces fundamentally challenged the concept of “mateship”—an egalitarian bond of mutual respect and unquestioning loyalty that served as the central ethos for ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) troops.

The Battle of Brisbane began around 7:00pm on the evening of what was being celebrated as Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Given the overall feeling of resentment toward Americans, it is ironic that the mass melee was sparked when a group of Australian soldiers attempted to defend an American “mate”—with whom they had only been acquainted for a few minutes—from American military police (MP).

As MP batons flew, more Australians joined the growing fray outside the American Canteen; local pubs had just closed, and the streets were filled with soldiers and civilians.

Fuelled by alcohol and notions of mateship, the hostile crowd outside the Canteen soon topped 100 as American MPs attempted to maintain a hastily erected defensive perimeter around the building’s entrance.

By 8:00pm the crowd numbered several hundred, with some estimates improbably claiming that as many as 4,000 Australians were laying siege to the American Canteen. The MPs were pelted with rocks, bricks, and other projectiles, as local authorities chose not to interject themselves into an escalating situation.

When an MP with a shotgun appeared at the PX entrance, all attention was drawn to the weapon, and there was an immediate scramble for control of it. The shotgun discharged, striking Australian Gunner Edward Webster in the chest, killing him instantly. Two more shots rang out and at least a half dozen Australians would later be treated for gunshot wounds.

The riot continued until 10:00pm, when peace was temporarily restored to downtown Brisbane. The main floor of the American Canteen had been destroyed, and scores of individuals on both sides suffered injuries of various degrees of severity. Military censors quickly moved to quash any reports of a deadly clash between Allied troops.

Apparently believing that the worst had passed, neither army responded by confining its forces to their barracks. With the American Canteen under heavy guard, the following night (November 27) saw a crowd of Australian servicemen gather across the street, outside the American Red Cross offices.

The group then moved down the block to MacArthur’s headquarters building, but the general had left the country. Half-dozen strong packs of Australian men spread throughout the city, beating any American GIs they found. Especially vulnerable were American servicemen seen with Australian women.

Australian provosts (military police) and Brisbane civilian police did little to intervene, and Australian junior officers were either unwilling or unable to restore discipline within their ranks.

By midnight, the violence had subsided, but at least 20 Americans had received injuries serious enough to require hospitalization. The Battle of Brisbane finally ended when, under pressure from senior commanders, Australian provosts adopted a much more aggressive patrolling posture and brought a halt to the disorder.

This historical event reflects the complexities of wartime alliances and the challenges faced by both Australian and American forces during World War II.

After we were returned to the Secret Base it would have been time for us to visit the Museum part, but Russ was starting to feel a bit strained with so many people around all the time.

I went inside and asked Kathy (who loves my hair) if we could come back tomorrow instead, even though our ticket was for today, and she said it would not be a problem. She also said it would be better for Russ if we timed our visit for after 9:30am as 46 school children were to visit the museum early in the morning.

It is also Charleville Show Day tomorrow so most of the shops will be closed. This meant a quick trip back to IGA (where the bloke behind the register also loved my hair – but I loved his tattoo of a centipede on his arm, so it was a merry time). Then Russ needed to go to the Chemist which didn’t take long.

We finally got back to the caravan, and I did the washing as the weather is a sunny 25 degrees. I then concentrated on the journal entry, and I believe I am officially brain dead.

Day 23 – Wednesday, 15 May 2024

We left the caravan park at 9:53 and went into town to do a few things and check out the Information Centre. They were well organised and had a greeter at the front door. The centre is in the old railway station, where the Brisbane to Charleville train still runs three time a week. It comes into Charleville around noon and then leaves on the return journey about 6:30pm. They arrive in Brisbane 18 hours later.

Charleville is a rural service centre on the Warrego River. With a population of over 3,000, it is the largest town in Southwest Queensland. Surrounded by rich pastoral land, it grew to prominence as an important transportation stopover between the vast properties of western Queensland and the vital railhead at Roma. Today the town is an important centre with offices of both the School of Distance Education and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

It is located 744 km west of Brisbane on the Warrego Highway and 300 m above sea-level on the Warrego River and was surveyed in 1868 by William Alcock Tully (Queensland under-secretary for public lands and chief commissioner for crown lands) who named the town after his childhood home at Charleville in County Cork, Ireland. The name had originally come from Charleville-Mézières in France.

We decided that we would do three tours while we are here and so booked and paid for them before leaving the centre. Our tour of the Bilbies begins at 1:00pm so we had time to visit the Graham Andrew Parklands where we had our elevenses and coffee, talked to the magpie, watched the white-faced herons and generally had a relaxing time.

Graham Frank Andrews was a councilman for the Murweh Council in Charleville from 1978 to 2004. He was Mayor from 1985 to 2001. The park in Sturt Street was named after him after renovations were made following the 1990 floods. Someone who has a lot to do with the maintenance and upkeep of the park is a die-hard Collingwood supporter. There is a Collingwood Bench (with appropriate Collingwood icons) and photos taken after the Grand Final have been blown up and put into a protected Information Board at the park.

Within the park is the Big Red Seat – I have a photo of Russ sitting on it with his legs far from the ground, and the two Vortex Guns. This bizarre piece of Western Queensland history is captioned: “Steiger Vortex Rainmaker Gun. One of ten guns used by the Queensland Government Meteorologist Prof. Clement Wragge at Charleville, September 26, 1902.”

The history of the experiment is amusing. As recounted in the Queensland Historical Atlas: “The Steiger Vortex gun is a cone-shaped barrel, fabricated from sheet steel, designed as a rainmaking device. The gun was originally designed by Albert Steiger with the aim of preventing destructive hailstorms in a wine growing region of Austria.

The firing of the cannon-like device caused a discharge of gas which set up vibrations in the clouds, causing rain. While on an overseas visit, Clement Wragge, Government Meteorologist, hit upon the idea of using the gun to make rain in drought-stricken Queensland.

Six guns were made at Harvey and Son, at Globe Ironworks in Brisbane, to the order of Clement Wragge. It was manufactured in the hope that the technology could induce rain during the Federation Drought.

Trialled in Charleville in September 1902, the six guns were set up in two rows, spaced over a kilometre apart and fired at two-minute intervals. Unfortunately, the experiment met with no success, with no sign of the desperately needed rain. Worse still, the failed experiment was seen by some as heralding the beginning of the end for Wragge’s career in meteorology.”

During our walk along the manicured pathways that flank the wetlands and lake sections we were lucky enough to see another new bird to us – the Pale-headed Rosella. The photo didn’t turn out too bad considering the distances involved.

We also drove around town, which is much bigger than I thought it would be and came across Charleville’s Oldest Tree which is on the National Register of Big Trees. It is a Moreton Bay Ash with a circumference of 15 feet (4.66metres), height of 10 feet (31 metres), crown of 85 feet (26 metres) and in 2019 its age was estimated to be 150 years old. It has the most amazing collections of huge burls covering different parts of the trunk.

Finally returning to the Information Centre where the Bilby Experience is done, we waited until everyone who had booked the tour had arrived and were then introduced to the history of the Save the Bilby Fund by Belinda.

Bilby is the indigenous word for a long-nosed rat however they turned out to be the cutest little rats ever. They are essentially blind but make up for it with an awesome nose and big ears. They are nocturnal creatures.

The Save the Bilby Fund was established in 1999 by the late Frank Manthey OAM and the late Scientist Peter McRae. They were known together as ‘the bilby brothers’. They had a shared passion to save the bilby and threw themselves into fundraising to build the predator exclusion fence at Currawinya, so that they could have a chance at rebuilding bilby populations in Queensland. 

The Bilby sanctuary is a 25 km squared area inside the Currawinya National Park. The fence was designed to protect bilbies from feral animals and predators (mainly feral cats and foxes) and to enable them to live and breed in safety.

It opened in 2003 and cost $500,000 to build the 25 sq km electrified predator exclusion fence.

Much of the money raised at the time came from selling thousands of panels of the fence. The key features are:

          The 400 mm wire netting ‘skirt’ at the base of the fence on each side blocks invaders from burrowing in and bilbies from burrowing out under the fence;

          4,100 short ‘springy’ wires pull the netting across to create a ‘floppy top’ which stops foxes and cats climbing over it; and

          5,000 volts of electricity pulse through six surrounding wires preventing emus and kangaroos from crashing into and damaging the netting.

After the tour was concluded we headed to the IGA for some supplies then back to the van so Russ could have his scan before we needed to head out again for the Cosmos Centre. Originally the evening would have been spent viewing the cosmos through the Meade telescopes. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, as far as I am concerned as I would have been fairly bored waiting around for a chance to see who knows what) the sky was overcast with clouds so we would not have been able to see anything through the telescopes.

Our guide and presenter for the evening was called Wade, and he offered a refund to anyone who had paid for the evening and only wanted to see through the scopes. Three people left and had their money refunded. They would have left the area before there was a booking available again, and I have to say that they missed out on an incredible experience.

The rest of us followed Wade (and the three ladies who were in training) to the Astro Dome – Queensland’s largest planetarium. This is an enclosed area with a very high Dome overhead (as you would expect from the name) and we were provided with a small pillow to lean back against in the chairs and observe.

Wade explained about the stars, the moon and the planets in our galaxy, and those far, far away. He was able to zoom right in so that we got to see heaps more than was possible from the telescope, and in colour. The optics were so good that we were able to take photos of the night skies with our mobile phones. All in all, it would be something I would recommend. We got back to the caravan after 8:00pm on what had been an event filled day, and we would need to set the alarm again for tomorrow morning.

Day 22 – Tuesday, 14 May 2024

Two things to do as we left this morning – empty the cassette and pick up the repaired tyre – both of which we did. They charged us $45 to fix the tyre which we considered reasonable.

We left the caravan park at 9:25am and it was a beautifully sunny day. The temperature was already recording 20 degrees.

The road from Cunnamulla was much narrower than those previously driven, and full of undulations so it was a bumpy journey. We were slowly climbing for most of the time, and we passed through lots of native grasslands.

The bumps made it difficult to read to Russ while he drove. We have started the Foreigner Serries by C J Cherryh. It was originally to be a trilogy but is currently sitting at 24 books.  That should last us for most of our journey.

Occasionally Russ would make a comment and I would lift my eyes from the tablet. We passed several small groups of emus.

Our road paralleled the rail lines which is no longer in use, and there are small trees growing along the middle of the tracks.

It is interesting to note here why the rail is no longer being used.

At 9.50 pm on the 5 September 2014, 26km south of Charleville, Australian transport history was made.

A truck carrying 52.8 tonnes (or 44 bags) of ammonium nitrate was involved in a single-vehicle incident on the Matilda Highway. The explosion was the equivalent power to 10–15 tonnes of TNT and so powerful that 30 kilometres away, Charleville residents thought there was an earthquake.

In fact, the explosion was measured as a seismic event measuring 2.1 on the Richter scale. Thankfully not a life was lost in the largest explosion in Australian transportation history, and the truck driver was incredibly lucky having seen the photo of what was left of his vehicle.

Leafless trees fringed the area following the explosion.

The site and ruins of this historic explosion are now signposted, and the story is told through interpretive signs at the site. The railway bridge will never be rebuilt.

We arrived at the Charleville Bush Caravan Park at 12:21 pm. This park is about two kilometres out of town proper, and the caravan section of the property is about one kilometre in from the highway -along the Diamantina Development Road. It is unusual in that they actually specify that they do not take pets or smokers, so our air is very clean and healthy. The road can also claim to be the longest road in Australia, beginning at Mount Isa and travelling across country all the way to Charleville – 1334 kilometres.

Once we had set up the van I began to make further accommodation arrangements for our future. I was able to book into Hughenden, Pentland, Townsville Motel for one night, but the website would not let me book into Winton. When I finally rang the park and spoke with Colleen, she advised me that the website didn’t take bookings – highly unusual and very frustrating when you go to their site and it says “Book Here”. Anyway, I did get to book into Winton then. And we already had our booking for Charters Towers, so all is okay for the immediate future.

While I was on the phone the birds outside made an almighty racket, so I went out and threw down some universal bird seed which was an instant hit. We counted 12 Apostle birds (gosh, they are gorgeous to watch), 8 Crested Pigeons, a Mudlark, and a new bird for us – five Hall’s Babblers.

After tea Russ sent out Edition 2 of the Journal and mum has told us she has received both editions and is happy with it. And then we watched the replay of Collingwood and West Coast Eagles.

Day 21 – Monday, 13 May 2024

A beautiful sunny day with a delightfully cool breeze. We set the alarm for 8:00am so that we could get going as quickly as possible.

Our neighbours on both sides of us have moved out this morning. They are not alone. There are only about five caravans left in the park now until after lunch when the new arrivals begin to appear.

After perusing much of the literature about the area we understand we will have to come back here in order to get everything done. There is plenty to see around the region, but distances are quite long between interests.

We are down to our last frozen loaf of Pana di Casa Seeded bread and I think it will be sometime before we can stock up again. With that in mind we visited the bakery, but their bread looked like it was transported in. Their pastries and cakes, on the other hand, were plentiful and a good range to choose from. I bought a bee sting for myself (as they only had one left) and an apple turnover for Russ. We also shared a chocolate éclair which had custard in the middle – very yummy.

We went slightly out of town proper to the BP outlet and filled up with diesel. It was 10 cents a litre cheaper there than at the BP station in town. We also dropped off our caravan tyre to have the nail removed and fixed, and we will pick it up on the way out of town tomorrow.

We went out to the Cunnamulla Bushland and enjoyed the 1.5-kilometre stroll. The six-hectare site is positioned on the eastern outskirts of Cunnamulla and the looped walking track meanders along a flowing waterway which terminates at the Wetlands. It takes you on a journey through six regional ecosystems within the Shire: Mulga, sandhills, Gidgee Stands, Mitchell Grass Plains, Wetlands and Brigalow Country.

Each zone features plants and soils typical to the region, and there is native plant interpretative signage along the walking path. We saw many different types of birds also, but the little devils didn’t want to be photographed so it was a bit hit and miss. Russ did manage a shot of a Plum-headed finch which is a new one for us.

The water tower has a mural, but it is a very tall and slender tower, so the mural is difficult to photograph properly. To make it even more difficult the colours used on the mural are muted browns and greys.

After that we went to do the River Walk along the banks of the Warrego River. We would have loved to have made it to the Lookout at the top but the walking track was very narrow and extremely overgrown (inadequate for foot traffic) so we deemed it to be unsafe to continue. Instead, we went back to the caravan and enjoyed our elevenses with a cuppa.

While Russ had his scan (senior citizen’s afternoon nap) I proceeded to download our photos and go through them for a few gems to share with everyone.

We had an early tea, and I am now finishing up the journal. Russ hopes to get it to mum tomorrow, although we are not sure how long it may take them to print it as Michelle is away at the moment.

To give you a brief description about Cunnamulla – Nestled on the banks of the majestic Warrego River in Southwest Queensland, Cunnamulla is a regional hub for commerce in the outback and a ‘destination location’ for travellers eager to experience what outback Queensland has to offer. 

The iconic Cunnamulla Fella Festival is the key annual event celebrating the essence of the outback over three amazing days of entertainment featuring cowboys, bull riders, shearers, stockmen, country music, bull riding, and fireworks just for starters. 

On 3 September 1879, Cobb & Co. drove the first coach through from Bourke. Cunnamulla was one of many settlements which grew up in South-West Queensland as a result of the activities of Cobb & Co. It is the only one to have survived. 

The word ‘Cunnamulla’ is widely accepted to be an Aboriginal term, probably from the Kunja language, meaning either ‘big waterhole’ or ‘long stretch of water’. The town was named by Cobb & Co when they established a base at the local waterhole.

The song, “The Cunnamulla Fella”, was written by Stan Coster and recorded by Slim Dusty. In 2005 a statue which was twice life size was created by sculptor Archie St Clair. The statue sits outside the Paroo Shire Hall in Jane Street and depicts a Cunnamulla Fella (i.e. a typical Aussie bushman) with a wide-brimmed hat and a mug of tea.

At the southern end of Stockyard Street is a solitary tree on a sand dune where the bank robber Joseph Wells hid after making an armed withdrawal from the local bank.

It is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register which records the event as: “In 1880 an incident occurred that provided the township of Cunnamulla with considerable publicity.

On 16 January 1880 Joseph Wells, a station hand, robbed the Queensland National Bank at Cunnamulla at gunpoint. The alarm was raised and as Wells was about to leave the bank, storekeeper William Murphy from next door attempted to restrain him and, in the scuffle, was shot accidentally in the shoulder. This shooting allowed Wells to escape from the bank, only to find that a crowd of onlookers was gathering outside.

“As he tried to leave the scene on horseback, the horse’s bridle broke and, in desperation, the robber ran toward the outskirts of the town. Amongst the crowd of onlookers were two men with unloaded guns, who gave chase. Turning on them and threatening to shoot if they didn’t retreat, Wells ran into the bush.

The police were alerted and organised an intensive search for the robber, who may have escaped detection but for the persistence of a sheep dog which had followed Wells’ scent and sat barking under a tree. On investigating, the local police sergeant discovered that Wells had taken refuge in the branches of the tree, where he was well camouflaged.

“Wells was arrested and stood trial in Toowoomba, charged with armed robbery with wounding. He was found guilty and received the maximum penalty, death. Because of the accidental nature of Murphy’s wounding and the fact that Wells had not had legal representation during his trial, opponents of capital punishment, including several members of Parliament, appealed to the Full Court on Wells’ behalf.

Despite these appeals and much debate about capital punishment in the Queensland press, Wells was executed on 22 March 1880. However, the saga had its legacy, with Wells becoming the last man to be executed for armed robbery with wounding in Queensland. 

“One of his supporters, Arthur Rutledge MLA, on becoming Attorney General (November 1883 to June 1888), legislated to have armed robbery removed from the list of capital offences in Queensland.”

In 1990 the town was devastated by a flood which saw the Warrego River reach 10.15 metres.

In the summer of 2012/2013, dubbed The Angry Summer by the Climate Commission, the temperature in Cunnamulla reached a new recorded high of 47°C.

Day 20 – Sunday, 12 May 2024

Mother’s Day today, so I hope all the mum’s have a lovely day and get spoiled by their children.

This morning is a Ho-Hum period where we finish washing and hanging clothes on the line, buy groceries down the street, look for an ATM (only to discover it inside the IGA when I got to the shopping part), and Football this arvo.

Russ and I had a quick call with mum who had a chuckle when she opened her Mother’s Day card and expects to get another chuckle from the staff who read it.

The weather is co-operating, and it is sunny with a few clouds – good drying weather.

It is interesting to see that one of our neighbours also has a Starlink outside their caravan.

While I watched the football on the computer with ear-phones Russ had a well-deserved snooze. He would occasionally raise his head and look at the scores on his phone before dozing off once again.

I spent a lot of time exchanging texts with Jeannie, Stef and Brett while the footy played out with a win for Collingwood against the Eagles, but injuries on both sides, especially our young guns. We ended up with only two players for rotation purposes after half time.

For tea we defrosted one of our Chinese meals from Benalla and enjoyed them immensely.

Day 19 – Saturday. 11 May 2024

This morning, we were woken up by a dog barking in the distance – annoying. The weather is overcast with heavy grey clouds.

We left the park at 9:53am and headed out of town towards Cunnamulla with a stop at BP to refuel. Diesel was 2.23 a litre, but if it is BP we get better mileage than with any other fuel so are happy to pay for it.

Not too far out of town we passed what had to be over 100 goats in the grasslands beside the road. I don’t believe I have ever seen that many goats in all my life.

Shortly after this we passed one of the offices and warehouse for Thomas Foods International. It would seem to be an abattoir from the number of cattle in the paddocks around it.

The rain turned into heavy drizzle, and we passed The Dry Lake, which wasn’t dry in the least. We journeyed at 75 kph today instead of our usual 80 kph as there was little traffic and it was fascinating to watch the changes in the scenery, and how the clouds made for different lighting in the sky.

The road is a lot bumpier than yesterday, and there were patches where we needed to slow down for some of the bumps.

We had another chat on the UHF during our drive today. It turned out to be the people who had been our neighbours at the Bourke Caravan Park last night. They travelled with two very well-behaved dogs.

At one stage we slowed right down and stopped with traffic hazard lights flashing for the family of goats on the shoulder of the road. Mum and Dad skedaddled but the two billy kids sat calmly on the verge. I hope my photos turn out because they were adorable.

Around the township of Enngonia, the Mitchell Highway (called The Matilda Way locally) is raised about a metre above the surrounding countryside. The water in the ditches is deep and could be seen all along the Warrego River floodplain.

We crossed into Queensland at 11:55am, and the roads deteriorated immediately. However, the sun came out to greet us at 12:21pm and it proceeded to get somewhat muggy.

The prominent raptor in the area seems to be the Grey Falcon. We saw many riding the thermals, and a few of them sitting on fence posts. None of them were polite enough to hang around for a photo shoot.

The storm clouds began to disperse, and an interesting phenomenon occurred. Patches of blue sky could be seen peeking through the clouds and the colour blue became lighter as you moved your gaze to the east. It was the prettiest, most vibrant blue we have ever seen in the sky.

Our metres above sea level at Bourke was 125. As we travelled, we steadily, but gently, climbed, reaching 189 masl before it dropped at Cunnamulla to masl 183. However, wherever you looked the country was verdantly green, and for this time of the year there was still water in all the creeks.

Once we had crossed the NSW-Queensland border we actually encountered more emus than goats, and the sun was shining brightly to encourage the temperature to reach 21 degrees.

The grasslands in patches had heavier understorey than previously seen, before reverting back to grassland dotted with trees. Although there were several warning signs for kangaroos and wild horses, we didn’t see any. We did see a dead snake on the road though.

Just a few kilometres short of Cunnamulla we stopped on the roadside with hazard flashes on and took photos of brolgas. The brolga was formerly known as the native companion and is a member of the crane family. It has featured on the Queensland Coat of Arms since 1977 and was declared the bird emblem of the state in 1986.

We arrived at the Cunnamulla Caravan Park at 1:04pm. We have a very nice site with the back of our van at the fence, and the park has a lot of people in it. We will be here for a few days and there are several things of interest to see and do. Tomorrow at 1:00pm Collingwood plays West Coast Eagles at Marvel Stadium. We will endeavour to be in the van to watch it.