“Flight to Charleville is now boarding.”
My heart starts pounding. After 10 months of longing, I’m finally heading back to a sunburnt country. There’s something special about returning to the place that’s special to heart. But it makes me two headed; I’m through the roof exciting, but also I’m worried what if it was all just made up memories. You know how funny human brain can be. “Good time” is subjective, and I’m hoping my “good time” in the Outback wasn’t just a temporary thing.
Charleville is the starting point of this year’s Angel Flight Outback Trailblazer due to its convenient airport. Since the official start is in Quilpie, we will be driving as soon as we land. Well, Peter will.
The flight is short and sweet, as always. The view of red soil out the window is enough to fill my expectations. We land at the tiny but efficient Charleville Airport (one of the biggest in the Outback Queensland, in fact), and already I see a familiar face. My friend Monique, who works at Charleville Cosmos Centre (which is 2 minute drive from the airport), is at the airport to meet someone from my plane. Ah, the small town charm.
We drive back to Cosmos Centre to wait for Peter, and catch up with one of my favorite places in the Outback. Peter is our friend in Longreach, which is about five-hour drive away from Charleville. We knew he would be late a little while because of the driving condition. When driving in the Outback, safety factors are quite different. One of the most important is the wildlife. Because “roos”, driving during the dawn can be dangerous. Yes, the locals call kangaroos just roos. Keep it up! You wouldn’t want to hit a kangaroo as well as badly damage the car. Avoid if you can.
The Cosmos Centre looks the same. The emotion comes back. I’m glad the “good times” wasn’t just a fantasy. I’m excited to show Stephen the good times I had here last year. We’re specially treated with a lesson about meteorites with their exceptional collection of real meteorites.
Peter is here! We officially starts our Trailblazer by driving to Quilpie.
By all means Charleville (population of 3300) isn’t a big town, but it is one of the biggest in the Outback Queensland. Quilpie, 210km west of Charleville, is even smaller with population of 600 (roughly). But it was just a beginning of surprises in the Outback. More on later…
Driving to Quilpie was relatively eventless. The road’s smooth, and it’s impossible to get lost. It’s my kind of driving! It reminds me of the time when I drove between Charleville and Cunnamulla. I was a bit terrified to drive the other side of the road but it turned out to be a enjoyable experience. Yes, I encountered many roos… Except this time we got some rainfall. It isn’t the best for the rally, but we need some rain! It may be indicating that this is going to be one fine trip.
We drive into the downtown Quilpie, a quaint small town. For the first time we meet all fellow trailblazers at the check in point. Noticeably, there is a group of people called themselves Marios, who travels with eleven Alfa Romeo cars. It seems strange to me who isn’t an automobile aficionado, but it makes sense to have car enthusiasts at a big rally like this. Marios play a big role during the Trailblazer… also more on later.
Just like any other rally, the car can’t be official without stickers! I’ve never done it but thankfully we have a group of specialists. We, car 13, officially became “Outback Angels”. The official registration packet comes with the grand itinerary. Today’s dinner… at Quilpie Golf Club. Golf… Is this for real? We’ll find out soon enough.
A small shuttle bus drops us at the Golf Club, 6km out of the town. There are a lot of things happening this evening. We are scheduled to eat dinner, meet more Trailblazers, and play night golf. The day gets curiouser and curiouser.
They prepared a meat-full roast dinner (AUS$20/ person). I don’t think I’ve ever had this much meat in one meal: beef, chicken, lamb, and pork, I assume. We sit down with our fellow trailblazers and get to know each other in the dark patio. Seems like there are lots of interesting characters in this trip, and oh boy oh boy am I right.
Meet Kev Phillips. He’s an opal miner based in Quilpie. Did you know how the opal is made? I didn’t. It was first time seeing the raw material for opal. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it. Opal is a national gemstone of Australia. Thanks to the Great Artesian Basin, Australia supplies about 97% of opal in the world market. Simply speaking, opal is a form of deposited minerals. It’s amazing to see what nature can create. “It’s mother nature playing tricks.” Kev says.
Tonight, we are also honoring a fallen soldier, Quilpie’s own Ric Milosevic. He was one of the last diggers killed in Afghanistan. His brother “Wog” is on the rally with us.
After a few drinks, auctions, and rounds of night golf later… we got back to our hotel to prepare for the “real” trip, starting tomorrow.
Total distance: 210km
Final destination: Quilpie