ITS POPULATION is less than 20, and all but one of its neighbouring towns (Emmet, pop. 2) is more than 140 kilometres of bush driving away.
Yet even out of the tourist season visitors seek out the village of Yaraka in central western Queensland’s Outer Barcoo.
“It’s the history, and that wonderful wild bush quiet,” said Chris Gimblett, who with his wife Gerry runs the Yaraka Hotel.
Their love for Yaraka goes deep.
“Chris wanted to live in sheep country, I preferred something nearer the coast and we drew circles around the areas where we wanted to live,” Gerry said. “I was teaching then and due for promotion as a school principal. I was offered Yaraka School, right at the point where our two circles crossed each other and exactly what we wanted, so of course we had to come.”
Yaraka School is no longer open, and Gerry has been principal of schools in Surat, Dalby South and Beaudesert since. But Yaraka always pulled them and when the publican phoned that he was giving up, they made an instant decision - one, they cheerfully say, they have never regretted.
Chris has even written a novel, available online, about the bush around Yaraka. It’s called Ben and is the story of the search for a dingo. It’s also, Chris said, about the loneliness of the bush, where you can travel hundreds of miles and not see another soul, or even glimpse a roof.
“The point is, it’s not lonely at all, the ever changing landscape is beautiful,” he said.
Yaraka has a long history. The first European to discover the area was Edmund Kennedy in 1847. With rich Mitchell grass plains it was soon taken up by graziers for sheep and cattle, and in 1910 the state government authorised a 2060 kilometre railway to support the rapidly growing pastoral industry. Though only a quarter of the line was completed, Yaraka was at its end and for a brief 20 years the town prospered, growing to a population of 100.
That line was finally officially closed in 2005, and dismantled. Today, a single cattle truck stands in the abandoned station, a whisper of the glory days when thousands of cattle were regularly sent from Yaraka.
Neither is it so long since sealing the road to Yaraka from Blackall, 165 kilometres away, was finally completed. Before that, travellers like the Reverend Beth O’Neill, who has driven to Yaraka from Blackall several times a year for many years to take services in Yaraka’s St Anne’s Anglican Church, always carried two spare wheels because of the sharp stones on the dirt road.
Last July, the 60th anniversary of St Anne’s was celebrated and a big congregation came in from around the region for communion and the shed meal celebration.
So apart from remoteness, friendship and a haunting sense of history, what can Yaraka offer?
Chris Gimblett is enthusiastic.
“Mount Slocombe Lookout – there’s even a bitumen road to it – glorious Welford and Idalia national parks, opals, and not far out is Magee’s Shanty, where Banjo Patterson wrote that wonderful poem “A Bush Christening”, he said.
“And of course there’s the town itself. Who would want to live anywhere else?”
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