Anyone who’s travelled around the Outback more than a bit will be aware that it can be a very lonely part of the world. To travel 100 kms without seeing any sign of a house or a person is not unusual – and maybe not even to see another car on the road in that time. Of course, if your vehicle has broken down and you’re waiting for someone to come along who may be able to help you, it can feel as if you’re on the moon.
I was recently travelling with friends in south west Queensland, in particular attending some events celebrating the centenary of when Quilpie was officially proclaimed a town back in 1917. (Quilpie’s about 120 kms west of Charleville, and 980 kms west of Brisbane.) I picked up a brochure along the way, entitled “Outback Queensland Travellers’ Guide 2017/18”, which enthusiastically classifies about two thirds of Queensland as “outback”.
It describes the Queensland Outback shire by shire, and lists the “communities” within each shire, and their population. For example, Quilpie Shire contains the communities of Toompine (pop. 2) and Cheepie (pop. 1). The Longreach Region contains the community of Emmet (pop. 2). Diamantina Shire contains Betoota (pop. 0), and Cloncurry Shire contains Duchess (pop. 2) and Quamby (pop. 0).
You’d think a place with population zero would be somewhat lacking as far as a sense of community was concerned. Hence it seems remarkable that although no-one lives there, Quamby is the home of the Quamby Rodeo, where hundreds come each July to enjoy the thrills and spills. Betoota (pop. 0) for many years had a population of 1, namely Simon Rimienko, the publican, who became famous for having been stuck on the Birdsville Track for 18 weeks with his truckload of 8 tons of beer. Now that Simon’s no longer around and the population has plummeted to zero, Betoota still apparently has what it takes to stage an annual Horse and Motorbike Gymkhana, and also an annual Race Meeting.
Betoota’s remarkable social program might incline to think that a place like Cheepie – which has one actual live resident – would put on all manner of special events to pull in the crowds, but no, nothing much happens in Cheepie. Maybe the person who lives there just prefers a quiet life.
It’s interesting to note that the Federal Electorate of Maranoa, which takes in 40% of Queensland including much of this Outback area, occupies 731,000 square kms, and averages one person on the electoral roll per seven square kms. One can easily get the feeling that the Outback gives you a chance to escape from the traffic jams and the crowds of city life. And you’d be right!