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The Spirit of the Outback departs from Brisbane every Tuesday evening and Saturday lunchtime on a 1,300-kilometre journey to Longreach where visitors are assured of a wonderful insight into Australia’s rugged pioneering history. The 24-hour trip follows Queensland’s coastline to Australia’s ‘cattle capital’ of Rockhampton, before heading west along the Tropic of Capricorn on its way to Longreach, from where extended touring packages are available. One of the leading tour operators in the region is long-established and multi-award winning Outback Aussie Tours, a locally-based company owned by Alan ‘Big Al’ Smith, who packs a lot into his tours. A fi ve-day package Alan is a member of the highlyrespected Savannah Guides, a network of professional tour guides offering a valuable in-depth knowledge of the natural and cultural attractions of north Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Western Australia. One of the most popular Outback Aussie Tours’ packages is the fi ve-day/ four-night Legendary Longreach & Win ton adventure: encounter an array of colourful Outback Queensland characters, visit award-winning attractions, and take in unforgettable landscapes along the way. For visitors arriving on Wednesday lunchtime with the Spirit of the Outback, the tour gets under way with a visit to the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame – an excellent tribute to Australia’s pioneering folk. Then after checking in at the Longreach Motor Inn it’s time for dinner under the stars at Banjo’s Outback Theatre, followed by a sheep-shearing demonstration and a little banjo entertainment. Big Al’s Winton dine-around The second day of the tour is unique – it starts with a visit to Longreach Cemetery. Hardly the greatest start to a day after a hearty Outback breakfast, you might think. But you would be wrong. A character called Garry, who would probably do well as an actor on the stage of a Broadway or London theatre, walks tour members among the old tombstones, and brings alive the stories of hardship and humour that were experienced by the region’s early pioneers. Leaving the cemetery, the next stop is the small town of Winton, a journey that takes you through vast open plains and creeks lined with coolibah trees. Once in Winton it’s time to explore the award-winning Waltzing Matilda Centre, the only museum in the world dedicated to Outback Adventure The Queensland Outback’s big welcome From humble beginnings as a stock route junction on the ‘long reach’ of the Thomson River, historic Longreach is now serviced by road, rail and air and offers a big Outback welcome to visitors. Sunset at the stockyard Big Al – a Savannah guide w w w . S E L L I N G D O W N U N D E R . c o m J u l y 2 0 0 7 a song. Downtown Winton also offers the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Display, housed in a store that has hardly changed over the past half-a-century. In the evening, another side of Winton is introduced through what Big Al calls his ‘ultimate progressive dinner’. It starts with trip to the Rangelands Scenic Rift Valley, where guests watch the sun go down as they enjoy ‘happy hour nibbles’ and a glass of wine or juice. Then its on to Winton’s historic North Gregory Hotel for the main course, and a Waltzing Matilda sing-along in the same room that Banjo Patterson’s song was fi rst performed back in 1895. The ‘progressive dinner’ ends with a visit to the Royal Mail Open Air Theatre, where armed with an ice-cream, guests sit back in canvas chairs and watch some nostalgic fi lm clips and cartoons from the 40s and 50s. Overnight accommodation is at the Boulder Opal Motor Inn. The dinosaur stampede The following morning, the tour leads out to Carisbrooke Station, with its breathtaking lookouts and unique rock formations, and then on to Lark Quarry, for a trip back in time to the age of dinosaurs. Lark Quarry boasts no less than 3,300 prehistoric dinosaur footprints, made thousands of years ago during a ‘dinosaur stampede’ – the only such stampede ever recorded anywhere in the world. After Lark Quarry, the Legendary Longreach & Winton tour returns to Longreach, where guests check into the Albert Park Motor Inn for the last two nights. Accommodation at all three properties on the tour is extremely comfortable, and all offer a full Australian buffet breakfast, which, like the lunches and dinners, are included in the tour price. The last full day of the tour starts with a visit to the Longreach School of the Air (now known as the School of Distance Education in this Internet age) and some time at the Australian Agricultural College, where you will meet up with budding jackaroos and jillaroos. The Qantas connection Then it’s off to the Qantas Founders Outback Museum, to learn how today’s Australian national carrier started with humble beginnings in the Queensland Outback back in 1920. After an afternoon at leisure in Longreach for some ‘retail therapy’ it’s time for the ‘grand fi nale’ of the tour: a sunset candlelight dinner cruise aboard the MV Long Reach Explorer. Enjoy the Thompson River and majestic fl oodplains as the rich colours fade into the starry Outback skies. Most guests depart the next day by train (early morning) or QantasLink (early afternoon) to Brisbane – train in, plane out is the recommended way to go. Click here for the Spirit of the Out back Sheep-herders bunkhouse timetable. Spirit of the Outback J u l y 2 0 0 7 w w w . S E L L I N G D O W N U N D E R . c o m 5