Home' Caravanning Australia : Autumn 2012 Contents 164 • Caravanning Australia • Autumn 2012
Although a reason isn’t required, contrast is a prime motive
behind any holiday. We take off in search of somewhere
unlike the place we set out from. If a person lives in
a smoggy capital they often seek out uncluttered coastal or
country surrounds for a getaway; and the inverse for small-town
folk. The contrast doesn’t stop there.
In travelling, we time and again seek out contrast to the
life led back home – to the tasks we commonly carry out, the
mindset we tackle them with. We might seek to walk a mile in
someone else’s shoes – if only to put our own back on at the end
of the trek and feel comfort in the familiar imprint worn into them.
Then there is contrast within the holiday itself, which is one of
the pleasures of being Australian. We can drop everything, hitch
a van to the back of the car and freely travel around one of the
most environmentally and culturally diverse countries on earth.
As Thomas Fuller suggested in The Holy State and the Profane
State, ‘Know most of the rooms of thy native country before thou
goest over the threshold thereof’.
There’s nothing quite like a travel quote to whet the traveller’s
appetite (preferably in ye olde English): ‘In travelling, I shape
myself betimes to idleness, and take fools’ pleasure,’ George
Eliot, from the The Spanish Gypsy; ‘A rolling stone gathers no
moss,’ Publius Syrus; ‘A ship in a harbour is safe, but that’s not
what ships are built for,’ Grant M Bright.
And so this is one of those journeys. From the sprawling
pastures of Longreach and the historically prolific Central
Highlands, through Rockhampton and out onto the islands of
the Great Barrier Reef, taking fools’ pleasure, gathering no moss,
leaving the ‘harbour’ in our wake – draping ourselves in lifestyles
other than our own and landscapes unlike home, purely for the
sake of a change of scenery.
Longreach is essentially bang in the middle of the state, and
is the major service town for Central Queensland. The terrain is
somewhere between outback and country, with one of the better
perspectives over the landscape at Starlight’s Lookout, north of
town. This elevated perch, taking in a horizon-to-horizon view
of the flat countryside, is said to have been utilised by Harry
Redford in his famous cattle thievery escapade of 1870. A cult
figure in Central Queensland, Redford’s criminal exploits, and
the public perception of them, offer a telling insight into the
Sheep and cattle have outnumbered residents in the area
since the town came into existence as a small settlement for
workers on the Bowen Downs Station, a giant property of
approximately 750,000 hectares. An expert bushman and
cowpoke, Harry Redford worked as a drover at Bowen Downs
herding stock that numbered somewhere around 70,000 across
the whole estate.
Cattle ‘duffing’ wasn’t uncommon in those times. Redford
concluded that with such extensive holdings over such a
vast property, the station owners wouldn’t notice if several
hundred went walkabout (he would later prove to be wrong in
this assumption). Redford realised that if he stole the cattle he
couldn’t hawk them anywhere in Queensland or New South
Wales due to their branding.
To remedy this, Redford devised a plan to run the cattle 1300
kilometres into South Australia, where he would sell them to
the Blanche Water station for £5000. To put the audacity of this
endeavour into perspective, Burke and Wills died attempting to
make a similar journey one decade earlier, and that was without
the added burden of nearly one thousand cattle in tow. One
troublesome white bull (exotic, even on a station as large as
Bowen Downs) was offloaded to a station along the way before
reaching their destination.
With two associates, over the course of three months,
Redford pulled off the improbable, but was caught the next
year by workers from Bowen Downs and Aboriginal trackers
who had been hot on his trail, emboldened after discovering the
conspicuous white bull. His trial became something of a circus:
locals packed the courtroom due to their admiration of the feat;
most of the possible jurors were dismissed as they sympathised
with Redford; and the troublesome white bull was placed in a bull
line-up, from which it was easily identified by the owner.
The jury found him not guilty despite damning evidence to
the contrary, more in recognition of his bravado and the cross-
country achievement than anything presented by the defence.
It seems Australians have always loved a battler, the underdog.
Redford’s exploits are thought to be the basis for the bushranger
character of Captain Starlight in Rolf Boldrewood’s novel
Robbery Under Arms. Originally written as a weekly serial in the
Sydney Mail between 1882 and 1883, it is considered one of the
first significant Australian novels.
The government shut down the courthouse after the verdict,
one of several interesting storylines surrounding the event. Today
you can watch a dramatisation of Redford’s life and exploits at
Kinnon & Co. in Longreach. The Harry Redford Cattle Drive,
running from 6–26 May just north of Longreach, offers a chance
The Criterion Hotel and Quay Street, Rockhampton © Tourism Queensland
Fossicking in Rubyvale © Tourism Queensland
CONTINUED ON PAGE 168
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