Thursday, July 02, 2009

Charleville on the Rocks

Wednesday 5:30pm The Railway Hotel, Charleville. I’m enjoying a quiet drink at Railway Hotel after a day of describing Charleville to itself. This pub near my motel is also known as “The Rocks” but is not living up to its name. Its hardly rocking with three other patrons stretched quietly along the bar. Not much choice by way of beer either. Its either ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ and it's XXXX all the way. But I like this humble pub nonetheless as I like this humble town as a whole.

The Rocks is situated at the edge of town in front of the imposing railway station and offers visitors an immediate chance to quench their thirst after the long trip west. The sign outside the pub tells me it also marks a road boundary between the Warrego Highway pointing the way east to Morven (and then on all the way to Brisbane) and the Mitchell Highway going south to Bourke in NSW. Bourke was the jumping off point for the first white visitors to this area.

The man for whom the road is named, Major Thomas Mitchell (who also bequeathed his moniker to a cockatoo and a town along the road to Brisbane), came up this way from Buree in NSW in 1845 as he sought a passage north to the Gulf of Carpentaria. With his deputy Edmund Kennedy and a mostly convict crew, Mitchell found a river he named the Victoria which he hoped would empty into the sea towards the north-west. Two years later Kennedy launched his own expedition and armed with the local of local natives, he renamed the river Barcoo. He followed the Barcoo north only to find its source not its emptying point.

In 1858 A.C. Gregory came by these parts while on a vain search for the lost explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. After another four years it was William Landsborough’s turn as he too came in search of missing adventurers: Burke and Wills. Landsborough left his mark on a tree about 20km out of Charleville on the junction of the Ward and Warrego rivers. Like Gregory, he was unsuccessful in his search but his investigations did encourage stockholders to move in the rich grasslands. Sydney man Edward Flood founded Gowrie Station which became a crucial point on the stock route from western Queensland to NSW.

Some 2,600 acres was set aside near Gowrie for a settlement in 1865. The first citizen of the new town was Polish-born builder Luis Janetsky who went to Roma in 1859 and came out further west to build a hotel in 1868. That same year, Queensland surveyor W.A. Tully arrived to baptise the new township. Tully was an Irishman, a native of north County Cork. He named the new town for his birthplace: Charleville Tully also gave names to the new streets that were springing up. Galatea Street was named for the ship that took him to Australia. Alfred Street was named for Queen Victoria’s second son and the streets of Burke, Wills, Eyre, King and Sturt took their names for those who died exploring this harsh brown land.

With the arrival of Cobb and Co and then the railhead, Charleville’s future was assured and the town grew rapidly. It was a strategic point for the export of vast quantities of wool and beef. In 1890 Cobb and Co moved their factory here from the coast in order to solve the problem of carriages splitting in the dry outback. The idea was to season timber stocks in the hot interior for durability and the experiment worked. Cobb and Co remained a fixture in town until 1920 when the car and the plane took over. Qantas’s maiden flight was a mail service from Charleville to Cloncurry in 1922. A Greek immigrant named Harry “Poppa” Corones supplied the first in-flight meals. Corones would yet leave a more permanent mark on Charleville but I’ll leave that story to be the subject of another article.

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