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     Volume 4 Issue 24 | December 10, 2004 |

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Curiosities of Queensland's Outback

Fayza Haq

If one wished to study the life of settlers in Australia, Queensland has its treasure trore of historical sites that one has read about in books. In this context falls Barcaldine Shearers' Strike Camp, Lagoon Creek. In the late nineteenth century there was a great confrontation of labour and capital here in Queensland. As a result, seasonal workers and trade unionism flourished. A sense of camaraderie developed between the shearers. When non-union labourers came from the south this led to a massive organised strike. A tree was painted with the words 'United we stand. Divided we fall.' This strike unified the labour movement, and was a key event in forming the Australian Labour Party.

Another worthwhile curiosity is the Qantas Founders outback Museum, which has links with the international airline Qantas. This was established in 1920 and the company soon shifted to a more central place to Longreach. By 1921, the first hanger was built here. The hanger, with its steel frame and concrete floor used in World War II and till 1996 is now a museum.

The Longreach Masonic Lodge, with its white Grecian pillars is certainly another remarkable site to see. The Masons are a religious order dating back to the Middle Ages. This was the home of US Air Force pilots who took part in World War II Battle of the Coral Sea.

There is then the Waltzing Matilda Centre, which is the only place in the world that is dedicated to a legendary song, an unofficial national anthem of Australia. Along with hi-tech lighting effect, piped music and superb fancy innovative displays. The residents of Winton, where this is situated in, formed a historical society in 1977, to usher in revenue apart from income from farming. The centre, opened in 1998, is of world-wide interest. An enormous statue of a Swagman done by Queensland sculptor Daphre Mayo decorates the place and celebrates outback history.

Yet another mark in the Australian heritage is the Combo Waterhole. This is the place with its picturesque trees that inspired the local poet Andrew Paterson to write poems and songs of national importance like "The Man from Snowy River" and "Waltzing Matilda." Paterson wrote under the pen name "The Banjo" and he wrote his pieces in memory of a station-hand who was involved in a protest of the ill-treatment of an Aborigine. The music for "Waltzing Matilda" was provided by Mary Cowan. A copy of the song was circulated around Australia, with every packet of a popular brew, called "Billy Tea," and helped to make the song well-known. This was in the early 20th century.

For those interested in years and their mining, Opalton Opal Field, which flourished since the 1890s should be of importance. With increase of horse fodder and water, the settlement spread and artmen soon boasted two hotels, numerous stores and a police dept. With the widening of its airstrip in 1970 came the end of the settlement. Today there are only the remains of a bakery and the police station site along with a graveyard. Big tree trunks mark the actual site of the opal mine. Talking of mines, the Mount Isa Mines produce copper, silver lead and zinc in close proximity, and is one of the few places on earth where such a phenomenon exists. Today their daily output is 39,000 tonnes of ore.

Another spot of historical importance in the outback is the Burke and Wills' Dig Tree at Cooper Creek. This commemorates Burke and Wills exploration crossing Australia from South to North. Many people in the team consisting of a naturalist, botanist, surveyor, meteorologist, artist and geologist died in this fateful venture. The dig marks a memorable depot-camp in 1860 and draws a crowd of 10,000 tourists a year.

Partly wild and still formidable, western Queensland has quite a collection of moving historical places, with its eight heritage trails, including Matilda Highway Trail and Opal Fields Trail.


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