Barcaldine is a sheep and cattle town 520 kms by road west of Rockhampton, and over 1000 kms from Brisbane, on route to the popular tourist destinations of Longreach and Winton.
Affectionately known as Barcy, most travellers on the road through town stop to peruse the Tree of Knowledge. The current tree is a copy, the original having been vandalised in 2006, and represents the trials and tribulations of the Great Shearers Strike, one of Australia’s earliest disputes between union and non-union labour, and an event that is today acknowledged as having led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party. It is a glorious sight by night and the original rootball remains under glass – even Liberal voters are impressed.
A recent addition to Barcaldine is the Desert Dreaming Centre.
Local First Nation woman, Cheryl Thompson, is a big believer in “closing the gap” and “sharing the Dreaming” and runs a hostel in town, with no Government funding, for children from indigenous communities who want to complete their secondary schooling. Remote areas do not have internet or other facilities so the School of Air is not an option. These students learn about work ethic and managing finances through weekend shifts at the Ridgee Didge Cafe, and are also involved in traditional Aboriginal activities and learn about the local Iningai history of the area through Thompson’s Desert Dreaming Centre, where they follow a curriculum that combines school work with learning about culture, art and tourism.
There is a dedicated work room which is strewn with artists’ materials where the students work on projects which are then sold at the Desert Dreaming Centre’s Gallery.
The Desert Dreaming Centre is also a tourist destination from which Thompson offers a variety of authentic aboriginal cultural experiences. Activities include :
Creating artworks and message sticks.
Sitting around a corroboree ring stories, song, and dances are shared, often involving the students, who are also being trained in other arms of Cheryl’s business activities such as the Barcy Base Camp (hospitality) and Trackers Tour Company( tourism). The latter includes the concept of Dreamtime Guides who are trained by Thompson to present culturally appropriate and culturally safe information.
We enjoyed the Desert Dreaming Dance and Dinner Experience around burning log fires whilst being entertained by the young dancers who explained the cultural significance of each performance.
Cheryl’s partner, Paul Stumkat, is a renown palaeontologist with a passion to further open up the Queensland Outback’s Dinosaur Trail. Together they present a blend of palaeontology and living cultures in order that tourists gain a better understanding of both the past and present life of outback Australia.
Paul has developed workshops that he uses to this result which I found both fun and educational. Here’s my caste of a fossil footprint of a small dinosaur, and I’ve also gained some experience in identifying the tracks of both kangaroos and emus. For the Little People there is even a sandpit where they can unearth a dinosaur skeleton. I warned you : mega fauna freaks are everywhere in the outback!
Yeah, so artwork is not my forte……..
NOTE: The students currently participating in Thompson’s dream have a 100 per cent school attendance rate. Now that’s called ” closing the gap”!
LIFE LESSON :
A reminder to never dismiss a country town. You would be surprised by what lies lurking…..