A tale of three outback towns and the people who love them.
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.
– Martin Buber, The Legend of the Baal-Shem
The country west of Charleville really opens up, there is a tangible difference in the light out here, the lay of the land, the colour of the dust.
The Foxtrap Roadhouse sits on a long straight section of the Diamantina Development Road about halfway between Charleville and Quilpie in the town of Cooladdi, officially Queensland’s tiniest town. It is a squat white building rising out of the dust with a single bowser out the front and a forlorn yet inviting interior.
The last time I was here, Gavin took me up the road to a secret yellowbelly spot for the afternoon and we caught a couple of these outback survivors.
This time we would be target shooting. Gavin pulled out a .222 with a hand-carved stock and we proceeded to do what redneck playboys do best, make a lot of noise and have some fun shooting at rocks against a dilapidated earthen loading dock from an age when this roadhouse was just an outpost for a massive cattle station.
The ringing in my ears blots out the cockatoos for a while, the laughter of Gavin at the excitement of the weapon letting go of a slug of lead at around 3,000 feet-per-second, and the trees sway in a noiseless dance against the dusky sky.
The town of Adavale, possibly the second smallest town in the state, has five roads leading into town, and about as many parking spaces in front of the pub.
There’s something about this place – a weatherboard hotel in the middle of a clearing surrounded by half a dozen holiday homes and a police station – that draws me back.
I used to think it was the pub itself that held some ransom over my imagination – a ramshackle cottage all cattycornered with additions and sinking joists, flood pictures on the wall, a set of horns hanging over the bar reputed to be the biggest in the country, or at least the state, from a Brahman.
But the bar is nothing more than part of the landscape here – and I guess that’s part of the spell, how perfectly it fits in with this place. There couldn’t be another piece of architecture in this place that would fit into this place’s shoes.
The real attraction is the philosophy of the bartenders who have looked after this spot on the map. The current owner is Koss Siwers, a jovial little man cut from the same cloth as the pub, apparently.
They seem made for each other. He is here for the isolation as much as the tenuous friendships that endure across time and space: when you are so far apart from other humans, intimacy can be affected within a few minutes over a pint. It’s one of the laws of the outback.
I camped in the paddock across the street from the pub. The council understands the needs of the itinerant and has set up clean toilets and a shower in the town hall next to the campground.
Camping is free, fires are allowed. There’s a real affection for Adavale in all who have an interest here or are just passing through. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but Adavale seems to represent the spirit of this part of the country in miniature.
As I run down the road back south to Quilpie and beyond, the dust billows into muddy brown pillows, all that is left of the great mountain ranges that once fringed Australia’s inland ocean.
Quilpie is the penultimate outback town – living on the remnants of a mining boom long gone, big enough to have a new clean pub, the Imperial, but small enough that the signs on most of the shops haven’t been touched up in decades.
I have still yet to find out if the Quilpie Pie has anything particular in it designating it such, other than being made in Quilpie. It is a problem that will bring me here again, during open hours of the bakery to finally solve the mystery.
The road to Jundah crosses Windorah, and I’ll come back this way soon, so I blow through like the breeze toward what I remember as one of the classic pubs in outback Queensland. On arrival at the Jundah Hotel, though, the interior seems stripped out, barren, clinical.
The barman fills me in: the last owners let the old place disintegrate around them. I remember a box of stubby coolers behind the bar for the regulars, each holding a special meaning for the bearer – long gone now.
A boar’s head on the wall, gone. An old jukebox full of country hits, gone. The Jundah isn’t what it used to be, but perhaps, with time, it will become something else, a new reality for an old pub. Pubs burn down and are rebuilt over and over – they always have been. Perhaps this is nothing more than the modern equivalent, and the Jundah can rise again, phoenix-like, from its own ashes.
Stonehenge, up the road, is a strange town indeed, but one suffused with good spirit, happiness, family and of course a pub that retains the best of the old with a few modern touches. Stonehenge never lets me down in terms of hospitality and basic comforts.
A fire burns in a barrel in the front garden when I pull up, beating back the coolness, all of the heat from the gibber radiating straight out into space through the bone dry air. A few jackeroos stand around warming their hands and I join them. The owners here are living their own dream, cutting a life, and a new family, out of the stones that line the roadside.
Inside, the air is bright yellow. Road signs line the walls, laughter fills the little room, bouncing off the old stainless fridges covered in stickers from years of travellers. A home away from home for the souls that roam this forsaken landscape. Stars arc across the sky outside, lighting up the road in a wan blue glow.
I stay in a humpy behind the pub, walking past a little fence around two pet sheep and a LandCruiser ute with a kelpie in the back.
Dawn rises so slowly on the open plain, teasing the horizon with yellow light long before the sun makes an appearance. A single child walks down the street to school. Otherwise nothing moves.
These outback towns live in a time far removed from our own. A distant era that still exists in our collective memories. They represent a kind of living nostalgia. I can see the appeal to those with the right kind of eyes, the right kind of hearts. But I have to move on again, into the wan morning sky.
ADAVALE is located in the southwest Queensland Shire of Quilpie, and is located approximately 930km west of Brisbane. The town was established in 1880, and is believed to have been named after the wide of the Queensland Surveyor-General, William Alcock Tully.
THE ADAVALE HOTEL is located on Shepherd Street, Adavale, and is most famous for it’s giant beer can and display of Australia’s largest steer horns. The pub serves a tiny community of locals, but is well known for its hospitality. In 2012 it was awarded the best bush pub at the Queensland Hotel Association’s awards for excellence.
JUNDAH is located in Queensland’s central west, within Barcoo Shire, and is situated on the banks of the Thomson River. Jundah is the administrative centre of the Barcoo Shire local government area, and is located approximately 1,200 inland from Brisbane.
STONEHENGE is a small outback township located in central west Queensland, it lies approximately west northwest of Brisbane. The town’s unusual name originates from the time when it was a stopping point for bullock teams and a stone hut was provided for bullock drivers to camp in.