Sunday 25th of June
Tambo to Ilfracombe
Linda and I were packed and leaving the rather pleasant of old style tourist park at Tambo just after 10am heading north along the Landsborough Highway to Barcaldine and thence west to Ilfracombe. The countryside was gently undulating all the way, mostly extensive grasslands with some scattered trees here and there, with occasional thicker stands. At Blackall, about 100 Km north of Tambo we stopped for morning tea at a pleasant park beside the highway. A sign on the opposite side of the road directed us to ‘the black stump’.
In Australian folk parlance, the ‘black stump’ marks a point in the geography where anything past the black stump is considered very remote. People often say they are going ‘out beyond the black stump’, meaning they are going a long way away from civilisation. But the black stump is an actual location. It is a long way from the city (Brisbane), and is way out west at Blackall. The actual black stump was a wooden stump from which the surveyors of the 19th century determined all points of latitude and longitude of the outback areas. It is on the edge of the local school grounds in Blackall.
After enjoying our late morning tea break, and visiting the ‘black stump’, we set off to Barcaldine 90 Km north where we intended to stop for lunch. The countryside remained undulating grasslands until about 20 kilometres from Barcaldine where light forests begin (soon to disappear after Barcaldine). On approaching the town, signs beside the road recommended the meat pies from the local bakery, so we decided to try them out. On arrival at Barcaldine we found a nice spot to park in the shade, then walked to the recommended bakery for our pies. And yes, they were excellent.
Barcaldine is actually quite famous in Australian history, for it was here in the 1890’s that the Australian Labour Party (political party) was formed; the first Labour Party in the world. The party was formed in the aftermath of the Great Shearer’s Strike of 1891. Wages were poor for shearers back then as the land holders had the power to determine wages, and hire and fire shearers at will. Around 2000 shearers were organised to strike in 1891.
The initial mass meeting of the shearers was held in Barcaldine under a large Eucalypt tree outside the railway station. This tree became known as the ‘Tree of Knowledge’, and still stands outside the railway station and is on the National Register of historic sites. Unfortunately in 2006 a local idiot poisoned the tree, and it is now just a dead stump. But it was such a significant location in Australian history, that the stump of the Tree of Knowledge has been preserved in a huge wooden monument made from thousands of lengths of wood hanging from a framework and surrounding the tree stump.
The purpose of the shearer’s strike in 1891 organised under the Tree of Knowledge, was to bringing the station owners to the negotiating table on wages. Unfortunately the station owners brought in ‘black-leg’ labour to shear the sheep, and this nearly caused and armed uprising by the striking men. The government then brought in both the police and military to quell the potential uprising, with the arrest and gaoling of many of the strike leaders. The strike eventually failed but with the formation of the Labour Party in 1899 to represent the workers of Australia, did eventually bring the establishment to the negotiating table of fair wages Australia wide. As mentioned above, this was the first Labour Party in the world. Australia’s Labour Party is still in existence and has recently held government.
From Barcaldine we now headed westward 80 kilometres to Ilfracombe, a small town 30 kilometres east of the large outback city of Longreach. The Ilfracombe tourist park has good recommendations, so I had booked us in there before we left Tambo. Luckily I had as it is only a small park, but very popular. We arrived at Ilfracome just after 3pm, and set up camp on a grassy spot. It’s nice to have grass underfoot.