Amazing people shaped by remote outback Queensland
Some of our local heroes are famous names like Banjo Paterson and Captain Starlight.
Others are the everyday heroes – stockmen and stockwomen, and the pioneers past and present who raise their families and livestock in often challenging remote conditions without the convenient facilities of city life.
Captain Starlight (Harry Redford or Readford)
Captain Starlight (born Harry Readford) is a larger than life larrikin hero who started his most notorious adventure close to Longreach on what was then the Bowen Downs Station. Although technically a ‘villain’, as he was a cattle duffer (thief), his cheeky plan and excellent bushmanship endeared him to ordinary people in his own time and ever since. His incredible journey from Longreach to South Australia with over 1000 stolen cattle has gone down in the history books.
At Nogo Station you can see the ruins of stockyards where he is said to have kept some of his stolen cattle before starting the journey south, plus a recreation of his billabong campsite. On our Starlight’s Cruise Experience, you can discover the whole story in the Starlight’s Sound & Light Spectacular Picture Show with an exclusive movie commissioned by the Kinnons. In the Harry Redford Old Time Tent Show you’ll enjoy a hilarious fictional account set in the same era.
Photo courtesy of modernfarmer.com
Probably Australia’s best-known bush poet, Banjo Paterson will be forever remembered for ‘Waltzing Matilda’, the song associated internationally with Australia. ‘Banjo’ whose real name was Andrew Barton Paterson, was born in 1864 in New South Wales, and was a solicitor, journalist, war correspondent and soldier as well as a poet. While staying with friends at Dagworth Station near Winton in 1895, he wrote ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and it was first performed at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton. There is a statue commemorating him in Winton and the Waltzing Matilda Centre there has been rebuilt bigger and better than ever after a fire in 2015. It is scheduled to reopen in late April 2018. Join our Winton Discovery Day Tour to follow in Banjo’s footsteps.
McGinness and Fysh
Although not as well known as Captain Starlight or Banjo Paterson, Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness were at least as important in Australia’s history. Having flown together in World War 1, these two men surveyed an air route across northern Australia in 1919 using a Model T Ford. They then founded Queensland & Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd (QANTAS) in November 1920. The fledgling airline’s first office was in Winton but soon moved to Longreach where the two men flew the first passenger and mail services from Longreach to Cloncurry and Longreach to Charleville in 1922. You can discover more about the pioneers of flight at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach.
Photo courtesy of qfom.com.au
The stockmen and stockwomen
Without the horsemanship of the stockmen (and, in time, stockwomen), it would not have been possible to manage the huge cattle and sheep stations of the region. Many Indigenous people also worked on the stations and became part of this outback tradition. Although quad bikes and even helicopters have taken over some of the horse’s duties, the stockmen and stockwomen are still an iconic part of outback life. You can discover their story at the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach.
Photo courtesy of Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame outbackheritage.com.au
If Australia ‘rode on the sheep’s back’, it couldn’t have done it without the itinerant shearers who sheared hundreds of sheep a day in hot, dusty woolsheds. Central and western Queensland were the scene of the Great Shearers’ Strike of 1891 where graziers and shearers drew battle lines over wages and the use of non-union labour. This bitter confrontation eventually resulted in a gaol sentence for the strike leaders. The unions involved then met beneath the old ghost gum at Barcaldine to form the ‘Labour Electoral Leagues’ which later became the Australian Labor Party. These days, electrical shears have replaced the clippers but shearers are still an iconic part of outback Queensland’s pastoral life. You can see a champion sheep shearer at work on our Nogo Station Experience.
The women of the homestead
Outback pioneer women were (and are!) a very special breed! With the menfolk often away for days or weeks at a time, mustering, droving or maintaining the hundreds of kilometres of station fence-lines, the women typically stayed at home to raise their families, manage the workers, maintain the kitchen garden and homestead animals. Far from hospitals, schools and services, the woman often had to be a nurse, midwife, teacher, dressmaker, cook and had to be able to mend a water pump or deliver a calf too! These days, women have taken on traditional men’s roles on some stations but, whatever the role, outback women need strength, resilience, self-reliance and a sense of humour! You can meet Abigail Mickan (née Kinnon) on our Nogo Station Experience and learn more about traditional homestead skills and what it’s like to grow up on an outback station.
After the Australian gold rush, many Chinese miners stayed on. They had an important role in the pioneering years of western Queensland, helping clear land and dig dams. They also helped as cooks, shepherds or labourers on outback stations. Their skills with irrigation and land management enabled them to create productive market gardens in the dry land, where they produced a range of vegetables and fruit. In Longreach, ‘China Town’ was at the lower end of Eagle Street towards Black Gin Creek. There were five Chinese gardens in town supplying the local people with fresh produce and helping them avoid the illnesses that some pioneers suffered. They were business people too and in 1897 Wah Sung was listed as a baker and grocer, and Lee Tim as a cabinetmaker. Jimmy Ah Foo built the Federal Hotel and was the popular owner of it the 1890s. He had 13 children, who formed a family band that played for hotel patrons.
Most of present day Longreach is on land traditionally owned by the Iningai people. When early explorers Landsborough and Buchanan first met the Iningai people in the area, both sides interacted with curiosity and traded tools. In time, there were minor conflicts over water-holes and cattle but generally, relations were harmonious. Some Indigenous people became part of station life. The early European women pioneers welcomed the Indigenous women who helped on the station with cooking and childcare. For the European women, the Indigenous helpers were the only female company within many days’ ride and the Indigenous women became friends as well as advisors on local foods and medicines. Indigenous men took to stockman duties and many were an invaluable source of knowledge on local conditions, helping pastoralists manage the unfamiliar land and conditions.