We fancied seeing a bit of "real" Australia, away from the tourist beaches & backpacker haunts, so we tuned into the local "country & western" radio station & drove inland to the town of Rockhampton.
Rockhampton is right on the edge of "The Tropics", straddling the Tropic of Capricorn, which everybody knows, is on latitude 23.5 deg., south of the equator.
Rocky, as it is known locally, was a major port on the Fitzroy River, until the multi-trailer, road-trains took its shipping business away. It still remains a major city as the "Beef Capital of Australia" with 1/3 of all Australian cattle produced within a 500km radius.
It has also produced many famous sportsmen, the most famous being tennis ace, Rod (The Rocket) Laver.
The town prospered after gold & silver were discovered at nearby Mount Morgan in 1870 & many elegant sandstone buildings were built along Quay Street, many of which remain today. One of the grandest buildings is the Old Customs House which now houses The Tourist Information Centre & a coffee shop.
Another grand building, which is now owned by the Australian Broadcasting Company, was the H.Q. of the Mt. Morgan Mine Co.
The British Petroleum Company BP (although it's politically incorrect to use "British" now) owes its beginnings to the gold mined from Mount Morgan. One of the original owners of the mining company founded the Anglo-Persian Oil Company to sell oil to the British Navy, this company later became BP.
Another Heritage-listed building is the Criterion Hotel with its spit & sawdust bars full of local characters & foreign barmaids.
Rocky, like most of the major towns we visited, has a beautiful, 130 year old, Botanical Garden with an elegant Japanese Garden (built after WW2 by the Japanese - perhaps as an act of atonement).
We loved the Great Western Hotel which is a big red painted, wooden saloon looking like a Western film set. We had a great Friday night out at the "Great Western Rodeo" where they have Bull Riding (with real bulls) - they also serve great steaks.
It was practice night, so many of the riders were between 11 - 14 years old - I'm sure they would be banned by the "Elf & Safety" laws in England.
Driving back from there, I was alarmed by an enormous, single spotlight coming right towards me - it was a railway train running on tracks that go down the middle of road.
I think he had right of way.
Located 8km out of town is the Gracemere Saleyards where every Friday they hold cattle auctions - this site has sold over 3,000,000 head of cattle. Visitors can watch as auctioneers, perched on catwalks above the cattle, bellow incomprehensibly at the buyers through load hailers. Although you can mingle with the buyers, it is dangerous, as a careless scratch of the ear or nod of the head could land you with 100 head of cattle.
We admired the cowboys on horseback, as they expertly manoeuvred the cattle from the holding pens to the auction pens.
The Saleyards also host the world's largest stud sale in their new 1,000 seat, high-tech Selling Ring. The record price for a bull is currently AU$300,000 - which is a hell of a lot to pay for a walking sperm bank.