Spotlight on Barcoo
By LGAQ Communications Advisor Tim Cox
On the outer Barcoo where the churches are few,
And men of religion are scanty,
On a road never cross’d ‘cept by folk who are lost,
One Michael Magee had a shanty.
You might remember Banjo Paterson’s A Bush Christening, the story of Michael Magee’s son: rollicking fun to read or listen to, it was once a staple of primary school English lessons.
The unnamed 10-year-old – who went into hiding when he overheard he was to be christened, thinking it was the same as being branded – wound up with the name of a visiting priest’s flying bottle of Maginnis’s Whisky... after it struck him on the head.
Funny place, then, the Barcoo: today it’s Queensland’s eighth largest local government area but it has the smallest population.
You’ll find it in Far West Queensland, around 1,000 kilometres west of Maryborough, deep in the heart of Channel Country and roughly midway between Charleville and Birdsville. Barcoo’s south-western extremity is Haddon Corner, the right-angled part of Queensland’s border with South Australia and the shire covers 61,974 square kilometres – for scale, mainland Tasmania is 64,519 – incorporating the townships of Jundah, Stonehenge and Windorah, all of which are accessible by sealed roads and have council-operated airports (with regular REX flights into Windorah).
Barcoo’s population might be small in number but long-time Mayor Bruce Scott believes relying on a single figure alone distorts the region’s vibrancy and inherent strengths.
“We constantly hear the negative of communities dying and population decline, and I really believe it [the population figure] is the wrong indices to gauge the success or failure of a community,” Cr Scott said.
“Our outputs have never been higher, our efficiency in agriculture and in the oil and gas industry, deployment of technology and people embracing new industries.
Hear LGAQ Communications Advisor Tim Cox chew the fat with Barcoo Mayor Bruce Scott in the podcast below >>
“I see a bright future and think we’re at a point now where Queensland and Australia broadly have to decide whether they want the inland.”
Speaking in Barcoo Shire on a recent visit to some of the western councils, LGAQ President Mayor Mark Jamieson commended the resilience and determination of remote populations.
“In all the places we’ve visited, things like isolation, challenges around connectivity with modern communications, industry, consolidation and, obviously, drought create some big challenges for these communities,” Cr Jamieson said.
“I’m certainly proud of the councils out here and the level of representation they provide for their communities, working with the LGAQ to lobby state and federal governments so that these areas get a fair go.”’
With its warm and dry autumn, winter and spring, tourism is becoming an increasingly important part of Barcoo’s economy, sitting alongside resources and the region’s long history as an agrarian powerhouse.
Councillor Scott, who was born in Quilpie and went to school in Charleville, has owned and run a cattle property outside Windorah for more than 30 years. He describes the current season as ‘not too bad’.
“We got on the better end of Tropical Cyclone Trevor and the monsoon trough that hit the north [in March]; not all the shire got beneficial rain, but a big part got beneficial flooding. Sadly, the west of the shire missed out on rainfall, and south of us missed out a bit; but the north and north-west had a really good hit,” Cr Scott said.
Jundah, Stonehenge and Windorah have hotel or hotel/motel accommodation available and visitors will also find ample recreational amenities – swimming, golf, fishing and more – on offer. And the entire Channel Country is renowned for its fauna and flora, stunning Outback landscapes and jaw dropping sunsets.
Mayor Scott, who isn’t standing in the March 2020 local government elections, believes Barcoo has a bright future, citing the region’s economic contribution per head of population, which he describes as ‘enormous’.
“These communities are not enclaves of welfare recipients; there’s no unemployment and they’re quite successful,” Cr Scott said, “but they still have undeveloped road sets, chronic disease is still an issue because of the machinations of our health service, we have to attract and retain police officers, schoolteachers, nurses and emergency services people,” he said.
“This old adage of ‘you choose to live there’ just doesn’t cut it with me because someone has to live there – to provide accommodation, fuel for motor vehicles that go through, maintain the roads and airports.
“And to do all that you need a town and to have a town you need law and order and emergency services, you need to have schools for those people’s children to go to and they need to be cared for by health services… this old ‘you choose to live there’ is an ignorant view of the world and I get quite angry when I hear people talk like that.”
In Banjo Paterson’s day, Outback towns were serviced by itinerant Anglican churchmen known as the ‘Bush Brotherhood’, who could reportedly “preach like Apostles” and “ride like cowboys”. One of Barcoo’s churches still bears the name of the ‘Fighting Parson’, Frederick Hulton-Sams, a Cambridge-educated university boxing champion who would conclude his sermons with an offer to spar with any willing member of the congregation.
You’re in luck if you’re in Barcoo Shire today and need someone to preside over a religious ceremony: Jundah and Windorah’s churches – Catholic and Anglican – are visited every couple of months, and at Easter and Christmas, by part-time priests from Longreach and Charleville and there are further provisions for weddings, funerals and, yes, bush christenings.
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