Outback experience.

I promised Sandy that I would visit her students one day.  We’ve been friends since we met at a quilt retreat 8 years ago.
I’m not too sure she really believed me.
Was it one of those comments you make on the spur of the moment?

No, of course I meant it.

Just where is Barcaldine  – Barki for short.? I think it’s an hour or so away from the black stump.

Well if you were a crow and could fly in a straight line you would have to fly 1047 kms from the east coast or 2000.kms from the northern coast or maybe  3000 kms from my hometown of Adelaide.

I flew on a small two by two prop plane from Brisbane on a 2 hour flight. I watched the red earth, gidgee trees and mallee flash by as we made a less than gentle landing, the engines revving and expressing their annoyance at being thrust into reverse.

Although the sky was grey, the air was warm and the passengers walked in rambling procession to the wire gate adjacent to the corrugated iron terminal.

Sandy was waiting, she told me on the phone the night previously that she was nervous, but maybe it was just excitement at the expectation.

Many of the ladies were already in transit, 36 in all.
Some traveling 8 hours through the central Queensland bush. Some had just a short distance to travel  “Oh, I’m only five hours away” they told me.
We added up the distance traveled by the ladies…. 16000 approximately, add my 6000 and that’s a lot of Kms

The towns are an hour or so apart out here and you share the narrow road with huge road trains that bear down on you at an alarming rate. The car quivers as they pass.

Kangaroos are a present danger, there was a kangaroo carcass almost every 100 feet or so. A feast for the hungry crows who dart up from the road as you approach. I blink every time, thinking they won’t make it out of the way… but their timing is impeccable… there are no dead crows on the road!

We visited a friend of Sandy’s for a cuppa. In the bush they call it “smoko” a throw back to the morning tea time set aside for the shearers.
Our "smoko" was more refined and the table was set with plates of home made biscuits and sponge kisses filled with fresh cream and jam. Such is the hospitality in the bush.


Unique to this part of our country are the roo boxes. Stands of white refrigerated  containers elevated to allow trucks to deliver carcasses right to the door.
There are so many kangaroos in the area that Sandy tells me that 20+ professional shooters work in the district. I had never seen or heard of such a thing down south.

The area was surprisingly green.

Down South we have no water and have been on severe restrictions for the past year. I was amazed to see steaming hot water gushing from a 100 year old pipe. An illustrated explanation showed that the pipe sank deep into the earths’ crust and artesian water flowed as though it was being pumped at high speed.


No water isn’t too much of a problem here, even though they have just come through a 7 year drought. The problem they tell me is to get the water cool enough to use.
Of course the drought decimates the land, but there is water for household use and minor irrigation.

Next stop, an hour or so away was “The Silver Thimble”, Sandy’s Quilt Shop in Barcaldine, a haven for the traveling quilter and for the ladies who live out on properties and need special time away from the work on the farm.



They also made the best hamburgers and coffee in the cafe next door. Plane food isn’t what it used to be so I quickly devoured the hamburger and then instantly regretted my actions.


Mid afternoon, I had time out at the motel, going over the class notes, doing my washing  etc, and then it was time to meet the “girls”.
The signs were promising, a huddle of cars in the yard. Baskets, sewing machines and a peek into the dorms showed beds neatly made with brightly colored quilts.

The huge classroom was already set up and each person had claimed their spot with a machine with attitude placed firmly on their chosen table.

Laughter, wine, introductions and more nibbles than we could ever eat broke the ice and rolled over into dinner time.

After a short presentation and a lot of chatting I was able to retire to my room for the night.  The girls were so eager to begin I’m sure that if we had given out the patterns, they would have had it finished by morning.

Class began at 8.30 next morning… the girls scrubbed up well, most of them got enough sleep despite a dorm experience – and there was a special reason for the early start.


I was to be guest speaker at the Barcaldine Show during the lunch hour.

I heard a whisper, that I was to be featured between the meat cutting demonstration and the clown.
Rather apt I think.

We were so busy in class that I had little time to prepare what I was going to talk about at the show…. 36 ladies needing attention took a little bit of fast footwork.


12.30, I changed out of the shorts to a more fitting outfit for the “show” and off we went.

Shows in the country are a highlighted on the calendar hanging in the kitchen or the scenic one put out by the bank that hangs on the toilet door.
Eagerly anticipated by adults and children alike.
It’s a time for the community to exhibit their skills.

The baking was interesting, cakes of all shapes and sizes sat in a long glass, wood framed cabinet and the proof of judging was there for all to see. It had been broken in half and a small portion removed.
Did someone go around and nibble on each piece? What is their expertise in perfect cake making?  I can understand the judging of a quilt, but a cake….surely there are huge differences in palette

There were a number of quilts, lovely ones. Of course this is a smallish community there were no surprises as to who made them.

Embroidery, knitting, flowers of all description and of course several really large pumpkins nestled amongst the fruit and veg.

Sandy’s 5, 3 and 2 year old grandchildren, exhibited their chickens and had proudly told grandma of their  “washing the chook” experiences that morning.

It was worth it. They all won ribbons and the chickens strutted their stuff in their elevated cages, peering with beady eyes through white painted bars of their guest houses.


“You’re on” they told me.  I finished filming and went outside to see a bunch of folks sitting around a makeshift stage outside one of the pavilions. Just a few feet away was the carcass of half a cow hanging from a scaffold. Fortunately it was covered with a light pink sheet….

I was  introduced by Paul, the Show announcer  “Come meet Pam Holland, the  famous quilter”  his voice booming through speakers placed high on poles over several acres of the show…..I felt like a side show freak…. the microphone was thrust into my hand and burst into sound with a whistle as I began to explain just who I am. Pam Holland, Mother, quilter and traveler.

Gees this was going to be a hard crowd.


I was ringed by akubra adorned men of varying ages. On one side sat  my faithful quilting buddies and the rest of the crowd were show participants. Elderly folk, children, families and country kitted women.

I was to talk for 3/4 hour….. so I just went for it…. We showed some quilts, I told them of the danger of travel. How to get out of a speeding ticket if you are a quilter and as I was talking I noticed two young policemen walk over to gain some knowledge.


It took a while, but I managed to get George in the slouched corner to crack a smile. At least he stayed for the entire time.

Then it was over and I was able to go back to class.

The next day, I heard from a friend some 1400 miles away that the talk was a success….. her aunt was at the show and rang her sister 2000 miles in the other direction who then rang my friend 2000 miles in the opposite direction that they thought my talk was great.!!!!!!

What a hoot.

For Pete’s sake who could imagine that being a quilt teacher could give you so many wonderful experiences.

Class continued in my favorite attire in the heat, shorts and a t shirt. The ladies worked on with dogged determination.

I finally stopped them at 5.30 because my brain needed a rest.

Next day, Sunday was Mothers Day. The cell phones rang constantly.
Someone bought in a huge bucket of roses, one for each of us. It was just lovely.

My phone doesn’t work out here. surprisingly I’m a bit behind in technology…. (I’m waiting for the iphone to be released here in Oz)

My family used Sandy’s phone to ring me…..!!!

The ladies all completed their quilts… Vanessa, from Argentina had sat up quite late I imagine, quilting and adorning her piece… it was just lovely.

The project was small but gave the students the opportunity to work out of the box.
Many of them are traditional piecers and the information I gave them set them on a different path. 

Such is the description of class.

“During a research trip to France I visited Monet’s Garden and couldn’t help but be inspired.
This class is a reflection of that trip.
In class
Img_0012_newyou will recreate one of the images I saw in Monet’s garden.  I will instruct you on Machine appliqué, thread and pen illustration all with the feed dogs up…..!!!’

Class finished with friendly farewells and anticipation of travel before they would finally arrive home.
I spent the evening with two of the girls from class at an outdoor restaurant. My steak was larger than the plate and absolutely delicious.

I had a wonderful surprise. Vanessa’s husband cooked delicious empanadas and sent them to me at the motel….. I shared them with the ladies over a coffee and saved two for breakfast the next morning. I found an innovative way to heat them….
I boiled the kettle, sat the container with the empanadas on the top of the kettle for half an hour….. voila, warm breakfast.

I love the comparison between the city and the country….the following morning I was taken to visit a lovely property. We sat sipping coffee on the huge aussie verandah overlooking a beautiful garden.
A tour of the garden was inspirational, I saw the nest of a bower bird and species of trees that I had only ever heard about.
I had the opportunity to visit the Outback Hall of Fame, the Qantas Museum, share jokes with a dinky di stockman and get taken to the airport by a taxi driver who looked like my Grandpa even down to his blue felt slippers…. “$5 bucks is all we charge love”.

Now I’m ready to return home…. 13 days on the road, I’ve met 100’s of people, done so many new things, been stunned at the beauty of our country and I think I’m a little more knowledgeable about living in the outback but certainly not an expert.

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