Captain Sandy Stewart was for many many years a union representative of the Bus and Tramways Union in Brisbane City, Queensland Australia. During the last few years of his active work life, he became well known for his personality as a 'Tour Captain' on the Brisbane City Sights tours run by the Brisbane City Council.
Last year (2004) Sandy was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and his wife took him off on an 'outback' tour of Queensland so that at least he has something to remember when he has forgotten who he is. During their trip Elaine made Sandy write a journal, and from that journal, he wrote the following story.
I am proud to present Captain Sandy's 'Travel Diary' today, and hope you enjoy both the story and photographs.
For me personally, this trip is interesting, for I have been to most of the places mentioned, and even lived in Blackall for two years as a policeman. I hope as Sandy continues to write, I will be able to bring you further installments of both his current journeys, and his past history.
- Originally published in 2005 This article has been republished in 2011. Captain Sandy is still around. After becoming a guinea pig for some new Medical Trials, his condition has improved somewhat and he is leading a reasonably normal life. He just can't remember who I am.
On the Matilda Trail by Captain Sandy Stewart
|Brisbane City's Captain Sandy Stewart|
I remember it was on August 9th 2004 when we decided to take off from our home at Pebble Beach near Bribie Island. We started early in the morning and headed west along the D'aguilar highway through Blackbutt on to Yarraman, Nanango, to Joe's (1) own country Kingaroy.
We traveled past Bethany and stopped at the peanut wagon, bought some chocolate peanuts (you beaut); Elaine was now refreshed and behind the wheel again.
We left the Burnett and headed for DALBY 53 kms down the track. 12noon on the 9th we pulled into the information station at Dalby and had a picnic lunch which was very nice, and left about l pm and headed for Roma along the Warrego highway.
When we arrived at Roma we booked into the Bottle Tree Gardens Motel as Elaine had motored a long way that day. Our first "sight seeing" jaunt the next day was to the 'BIG RIG'. It tells the story of Roma's big oil rush in the 1920s; the T-32 rig and the natural gas line to Brisbane. They also had a night show that we attended called, "A journey through time." Next morning we went for a miniature steam train ride at the big rig, after that we just had enough time to see Lenroy's Slab Hut before heading west again to Charleville.
According to Elaine, I missed a town called Mitchell where there were hot artesian spas.
|Mini Trains in Roma Central Queensland|
All I knew about Mitchell was that it was a bushranger town that Major Mitchell explored on the Maranoa River. (I must have had a brain drain that day.)
Onward now to Charleville. It was late in the afternoon of August the 10th as we cruised into Charleville and booked into the Waltzing Matilda Motel.
That night we went for a very nice meal at the Charleville Hotel. We were told that there would be a tour of the Corones hotel the next day.
The 11th of August was a beaut day in the west.
This was the day we were to visit Mr. Corones hotel and have a Devonshire tea with Karl.
We waited until the Westlander came in from Brisbane, when the tourists turned up at 2.30pm Karl took us on a nostalgic tour of the hotel. After that we were booked in for a bush camp dinner and fire side poetry, the brochure said "Bring your own chair, plate, fork, knife and spoon'; so we did.
Arriving at 4.30pm we settled down at the caravan park in the Bailey bar. It was a great show; there was whip cracking, poetry reading, and didgeridoo playing. Afterwards we had some Monga bush stew, Billy tea and damper. We had to be off to see the Flying Doctor coming into Charleville Base at 6.OO p.m. On the way to the Flying Doctor Base we had time to check out the Cosmos Centre (outback stars like you have never seen them before.) I digress, here comes the Flying Doctor!
|Sheep at Augathella (You know, near Tambo) - and - Qantas plane 'retired' at Longreach.|
I expected to see a king air twin engine aeroplane but to my surprise in comes a single engine Pilates pc-12. On board were the Doctor, a nurse, and a stretcher patient. The Ambos (2) were standing by so as soon as the plane pulled up at the hanger the Ambos loaded their patient, and with sirens screaming took off for the hospital. We then went back to our motel.
It is now the 12th of August. Today we are going to head north to Mt Isa, but before we go we have a few things to do. First of all we have to go to the FLYING DOCTOR HQ and thank them for the tip of when the plane was coming in. On our way back to town we went past the Vortex guns built by Steiger Vortex as a rain making exercise in 1902, it failed.
Then we went to the Qantas hanger where the 1st Qantas flight took place on the 2nd of November 1912 at 5.30am from Charleville to Cloncurry. The pilots were P.J. McGuiness and W. Hudson Fish. The first passenger was 85 year old Alexander Kennedy who had pioneered the bullock team run from Charleville to Cloncurry 53 years earlier.
It was time to head north across the Warrego River to Augathella. The Landsborough Highway now goes past Augathella so we had to travel 5 kms in to get there. 40 years ago when I was last there the main road ran straight past the pub.
I remember going into the old pub for a beer, in those days the pub bar was full but I found a spot on the left side of the bar and said g'day to the blackfella next to me.
When I went to order a beer the blackfella said 'you can't drink here mate you gotta go over to the white's side' so I stepped over the white line painted on the floor to the white's side of the bar and finally got a beer. I had never heard anything like this in My life before. The old pub has gone now.
As we drove around the town we came across a very old house with a nice back yard setting which looked like Ma & Pa Kettle sitting having morning tea.
Could not find any locals in the town, we did see about 100 goats in the main street grazing on the medium strip. I said to Elaine we had better go back to that nice back yard setting and take a photo, we found the place again and as we pulled up, to our surprise the statue's of Ma & Pa Kettle stood up and took their cups back inside. We could not stop laughing.
Another 7 kms down the track and we were back on the Matilda Highway heading for Blackall. We are heading north as we pull into Tambo for lunch, it's a nice little picnic spot beside a lake.
No sooner has Elaine set up for lunch when all the camper vans turn up, she seems to attract them all, it happens every time we stop.
|Ah! Enjoying nature's warmth. Sandy and Elaine take a dip in artesian bore water - Blackall. (BenDedek used to live around the corner)|
With Lunch over we are back on the road to Blackall, crossing over the Barcoo River we are now coming into Blackall. The story about what there is in Blackall is not true because the sign says there are 1800 people in Blackall.
It's 4.30pm August 12th. We booked into the Daisy Street Motel, 'The Coolabah' opposite the aquatic centre. Ten minutes later we were in the artesian spa pool and stayed until 6.30pm. had a great time.
The next day we visited the BLACK STUMP in Thistle Street, it is considered that the country west of Blackall is beyond the black stump.
|Anything beyond the 'Black Stump' is in 'whoop whoop' - Aussie slang for 'no man's land'.|
Next we arrived at Jack Howe's memorial statue at 53 Shamrock Street. Jackie was born in Warwick in 1861 and died in Blackall in 1892.
Jackie was a gun shearer.
|Jack Howe Memorial. Famous Shearer. Blackall.|
His record of 321 sheep with the blade in 7 hours 40 minutes has never been beaten.
Jackie was a hero of the working class and a great mate of T.J. Ryan who became premier of Queensland. I had my photo taken beside his statue.
We then went to see the wool scour.
It is a steam powered wool washing plant with a 20 stand shearing shed which was in operation from 1908 until 1978.
It is still in top condition.
With the tour of the woolscour over we are off to Barcaldine.
Barcaldine is 107 kms north of Blackall, the home of the Australian Workers Heritage Centre, a five acre heritage park dedicated to the working men and women of Australia.
The Tree Of Knowledge a eucalypt ghost gum tree growing in front of the station celebrates the meeting of the 1891 shearers strike and is the birth place of the Australian Labour Party. The tree is over 170 years old.
|Barcaldine's Tree of Knowledge. The working man's political life blood. Barcaldine (North of Blackall, south of Longreach)|
We are now crossing over Lagoon Creek heading for Longreach. Cruising west 80 kms to Ilfracombe we stop to have a beer at the Wellshot Hotel and guess what! THE PUB'S GOT NO BEER.
Queensland's oldest pub will be opening again soon with new owners Patty and David Dawes, so we took a photo of the old pub and have to head west another 28kms to Longreach before we can get a beer. It's very dry out here, we have only come across a couple of creeks with water in them, so it didn't come as any surprise to see a sign on the side of the road saying Cattle Ahead. There were about 500 head in the long yard, a couple of drovers boiling the billy and another on horse back keeping an eye on the cattle. It's a very tough life out west when the country's dry.
It's late in the afternoon of the 13th of August.
|Sandy and Poet Jim O'Connor in Longreach. "Passing through - saw the light on!"|
We drive past the Longreach Airport on our right; but what's that way out here?
A Qantas 747-200 Jumbo Jet! Must go and see that.
On our left is The Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame another must see.
Elaine is getting tired now so we pull into the Longreach Betta Cabins for the night, they are within walking distance of The Stockman's Hall of Fame and the Qantas Museum.
Saturday August 14th we are up early and off to the Qantas museum to see the original hanger built in 1922. Qantas launched their first plane in 1921, an open cockpit Arvo 504k.
Stage two of the museum is now completed housing the history of Qantas.
In 2002 a jumbo 747-200 VH-Echo Bravo Quebec called Bunbury (named after the city of Bunbury in Western Australia) landed at Longreach.
It is now parked at the front of the airport with its 37 meter high tail making a land mark as you drive into Longreach. After touring the 747 we spent a bit too long at Qantas so we high tailed it across the road to the Stockman's Hall of Fame, by the time we arrived it was 4.30 p.m., and with only a ' hour to go we buy our tickets and have a quick look around, we will have to come back tomorrow, lucky for us the ticket is for two days.
|Jim O'Connor Poet - Longreach Queensland|
Sunday August 15th a tour bus picks us up at our front door and we're off to Banjo's Wool Shed and Outback Theatre where shearing, wool classing, bush songs, poems, skits and yarns await us, all toped off with billy tea and damper. After the show we had a yarn with Alan Banjo he told us a story about shearing, droving, and roo shooting.
Elaine found a book of poems for sale written by Jim O'Connor, Alan told us that Jim is a local and for us to go and see him and he would sign the book for us. We just had enough time to head back to 'The Stockman's Hall of Fame' finish our tour, have our photo taken with the big stockman and scurry back to the Longreach Betta Cabins for the night.
The next morning we tried to book in on the Thompson Bell paddle wheeler but it was booked out for the rest of the week.
With the boat trip off our list it was off to Mt Isa for us, but first we had to go and visit Jim O'Connor the poet and get our book signed. We packed up and headed into Longreach and found Jim's place, he greeted us like long lost friends, read poetry for us and told us some yarns about his droving days. It was a real Pleasure to meet him. Soon it was time for us to say say our goodbyes and head north west over the Thompson River for Mt Isa.
The next town we came to was Winton.
We stopped at the famous Opal Shop, the one with the dunny (3) on the veranda roof with the big red back spider on the dunny seat.
Elaine bought some opal earings, then we went next door to see the Waltzing Matilda Centre, but it was still under construction, so we had to give it a miss.
We walked across Elderslie Street took a few photo's as this is Banjo Patterson country, then we went to the pub for lunch. After lunch we headed off once again. Kynuna was the next town we came to if you could call it that. It has a pub called The Blueheeler, a shop, a servo, and about 20 residents.
|Under the shade of a Coolibah tree.....|
The only saving grace for Kynuna is that it is the birth place of our national song Waltzing Matilda, which was first sung in January 1895. This was told to us by Richard Magoffin himself at Magoffin's Matilda Expo. We are now leaving Kynuna to go to Cloncurry.
We arrived in Cloncurry at 3.25pm on Monday the 16th of August and booked into the Cloncurry Motel for the night. The motel is next door to the post office which was built in 1885.
We were up early the next morning to go to the John Flynn Place.
|Mt. Isa Mines|
It commemorates the founding of the Royal Flying Doctor Service by John Flynn.
We have one more place to visit before we head off to the Isa and that is the original Qantas Hanger at Cloncurry.
It is 118 kms from Cloncurry to Mt Isa. As we head west along the Barkly Highway we pass the Mary Kathleen sight where the uranium mine used to be.
It is late in the afternoon when we pull into the Riversleigh Fossil Centre & Information Station in Marian Street Mt Isa. There is just enough time to do the Riversleigh Fossil Tour, and then back up for the tour of the Hard Times Mine.
The mines tour was great, first you had to get into mining gear, then go to the service room where you were issued with a hard hat and battery pack. After a briefing we were taken to the Alimak Cage and lowered down into the mine.
It is a full working mine with 1.2 kms of tunnels they even let us have a go at the mine face with the jack hammers. We left the mine in a pickup truck as the exit was too steep and too dangerous to walk out. As Elaine was getting tired and it was getting late we booked into the Silver Star Motel. The next day we had an early pick up at the information station for a surface tour of Mt Isa Mines.
We headed west, crossing the Leichhardt River which divides the mine from the city. The mine is on the western side of the river. Entering the mine sight we first went to the copper mine where we saw molten copper being poured into vats next to the mines own electricity station.
|Top: Aboriginal traditional 'Spiritual' place. Below: (?) Somewhere.|
Before moving on to the silver, lead, and zinc mines our tour bus had to go through the wash , this was to make sure that each section of the mine stayed clean. We ended our tour at the open cut mine which is reopening in 2005 and will have an open cut 3 miles across. We returned to the Silver Star Motel in time to go for lunch at the Overlander Hotel where we had the most gigantic steak I have ever seen, it filled the entire plate. We made short work of that and were back at our motel in time for our afternoon Jabiru Aboriginal Tour.
We waited for the 4x4 vehicle to pick us up for the tour expecting to see local indigenous tour guides, but who should greet us? A white bloke, but worst of all he was a Frenchman. 'hey mate I thought this was an aboriginal tour' He explained that his son in law was an aboriginal and had taught him the ways, so with this in mind we were on our way.
Heading east about 50kms we turned left and headed bush. Stopping in a clearing we went down a winding track on foot learning about bush tucker on the way, we sampled the bush tomato which was very nice, and saw rock paintings and engravings. Then we headed off to an old camp sight where we found some old stone tools and plates, next we went high up in the mountains to a lookout, a waterfall and a stream, then we were off to lovely Lake Moondarra, we had a small break here to see the vast colours of the bush.
|Museum of the underground hospital.|
Next we visited the Underground Hospital and Museum which was built after Darwin was bombed in February 1942, because it was feared that Mt Isa could be the next target.
The hospital was completed quickly with surgical, medical, maternity,outpatients and operating theatres. The hospital is still in its original condition with rock walls and a dirt floor. Some of the original beds and equipment are still there, it has become a storehouse for the above-ground hospital.
The next place we went to was the tent house in 4th avenue, an old miners shack with a tin roof and canvas walls. From here our guide took us to dinner at the Overlander Hotel where we had that big steak for lunch, so this time we had barramundi, it was the best barra I have ever eaten.
After dinner we went to the lookout for night viewing of Mt Isa.
While we were there the guide pointed out this house on the hill and told us a story about it.
He said that the man who bought the land on the hill would never be able to build on it as first he would have to build a road up to the top, then level the top off before he could put anything up there and the cost would be so great that he could never afford it.
Then one day he watched as council workmen started building a road to the top of his land, he said nothing but he watched and waited until the road was built, then they started leveling off the top of the hill.
Once again the man watched and waited until they had finished and were trying to take a huge water tank up the hill, he then asked them what they were doing, they said they had to put the tank on top of that hill, he said 'not on my hill you don't' They replied that it wasn't his hill, so he told them to go back and check the records which they did, only to find he was right, and they should have been placing the tank on another hill.
This man now has a lovely house up on his level hill top with his own fully council built private road and has a great view over Mt Isa thanks to the council getting it wrong. This ended our Jabiru Tour.
Before we left Mt Isa the next day we had a tour of Mt Isa School Of The Air in Able Smith Pde opposite the Overlander Hotel. It is Queensland's largest classroom with an 800,000km sq coverage. We experienced on-air lessons with a group of outback children. We were told that in 2005 the school would be going off the air and every outback home would be connected by telephone.
|I love to have a beer with Duncan - down at the town and country.|
Leaving the Isa and heading east to Cloncurry (lost track of the days now as you do when on holidays) Passed Cloncurry and on to Julia Creek, we are supposed to stop here the night but can't as it's fully booked out for the Dunnart Bush Festival, so this means it's the 20th of August 2004. The Dunnart is a small nocturnal marsupial mouse. Thought we would stop for a beer anyway.
Julia Creek has to be one of the driest places in the west and hot. We stopped for a beer at the Outback Club, it looks like a tin shack from the road; don't think they even have a bottle shop. We went inside and what a shock it was to find ourselves in an airconditioned pub with a bowling green out the back. We talked to the locals and they said the only place to stay the night was the show grounds as the joint is booked out for the bush festival. The headliner for the show was John MacSweeney.
|Hard Times Mine|
We're heading off for Richmond, I blinked and almost missed it! We stopped for petrol at $1.10 not the dearest we have seen , the dearest was at Kynuna $1.11. Back home it is only 86 cents.
We're heading off again, this time to Hughenden. We arrived late in the afternoon and booked into Wright's Motel, they were doing it up. We were taken to our room it was set up like a jail so I asked the girl was she locking us up for the night. It was OK I actually liked the place. We went looking for food as the pub dinning room wasn't inviting at all, so we ended up at F.J. Holden's Caf', a 1950's style caf' with a juke box and all decked out with holden's and ELVIS of course. We had the biggest malted milk, and burger. The next day we took a picture of the Coolabah Tree where Frederick Walker and William Landsborough blazed their mark in 1861/1862 whilst searching for Burk & Wills.
|Steam trains Maryborough|
Heading East again through Prairie, Torrens Creek, Charters Towers, and on to Ravenswood, an old Gold mining town but more about that later.
We are going to the Burdekin Falls Dam It's big, 10 times bigger than Sydney Harbour. Had a nice picnic there and now we are back at Ravenswood. We stopped to see the new gold mine in action.
As we came over the hill into town, the town was covered in dust from an open cut blast, and then the trucks were in action. 100 ton trucks moving five million ton's of ore a year with the help of a 2.500 ton excavator that's how Carpenteria Gulf do it these days.
In the old days it was not so, Woody lives here and he will tell you it was all pick and shovel, he'll take you on a tour of the old court house, lock up, and St Patrick's Church built in 1880. He will tell you the best steak sandwich in town is at the Imperial. We leave
Ravenswood and head for Giru where Elaine can get a well deserved rest at the home of our eldest daughter Sharon Burridge.
|Elaine and son BJ in Townsville. Watch it girl - no shoes. There's snakes around there, I almost stepped on one.|
We are now at Giru resting up and catching up with the family before setting off on our journey down the east coast of Australia back to Pebble Beach.
Sharon's daughters Charmaine and Ammie, and Ammie's boyfriend Russell paid us a visit, it was lovely to see them all again.
We went up to Townsville and had lunch with our son B.J.(Brian John) and his wife Rani Bassett.
We also had a great night out in Ayr with Sharon, her friend John, his daughter Shareese, John's parents Ron and Thelma, also Russell, Ammie, and Charmaine, and one of their friends at the tavern where Ammie works.
Elaine's back at the wheel again and we're heading south, next stop's Bundaberg. Cruising into Bundy we must find a spot to book in for the night. Elaine said 'there's Brothers Football Club' and right opposite was a motel. We booked in there at the Tropical Gardens Motor Inn at about 3pm then we went over to the club for a beer, and bugger me who do we run into but the Smokin Crawdads Band.
Mick and Darby from the band also play for the Hey Hey It's Wednesday band at the show we go to every Wednesday at Caboolture RSL club. We went and played the pokies for a while and won $300 had dinner and stayed for the show. It was a great night out.
The next day we went to do a tour of the Bundy Rum Distillery but when we turned up they said we could not take any of our gear with us on the tour not even our car keys or my hearing aids, we said 'stuff that' so we didn't go.
|The Best Rum in the World. Bundaberg Rum, made at the Beenleigh Rum distillery and owned now I think by a foreign company?|
We took a couple of pictures of the white bear and left. We still had enough time to go to the beach at Bargara, it is a lovely spot. We had lunch on the beach then headed for Maryborough.
It's Saturday 24th of August 2004 and we are in Maryborough at the home of our friends Christine and Mackie Reisenweber. We stayed the night with them and on Sunday we went to the park and had a ride on the historic train it was lots of fun. Sadly our trip was over it was time to head home to Pebble Beach.
That was our trip along the Matilda Trail as I remember it.
Alexander (Sandy) Stewart
Sandstone Point.Queensland. 4511
1: Kingaroy is the hometown of the most famous Premier (State Leader) of Queensland Sir. Joh Bjelke-Peterson, and 'Bethany' is the name of his Peanut farm.
2: 'Ambos' is Aussie Slang for what Americans call 'paramedics'.
3: A 'dunny' is the Australian word for an outhouse/toilet.
More Photographs of this trip can be found at:
Other Stories by Captain Sandy Stewart
R.P.BenDedek is the pseudonym of the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (www.kingscalendar.com). He is a guest columnist and 'stand-In' Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. An Australian, he currently teaches Conversational English in China. Other Stories
Writers Journal Kingscalendar
"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls.