“Drought is not like flood or fire, where you have it but then it’s gone and you start pulling your life together. Drought is like a cancer that slowly grows and grows and grows.”
Driving north to Thallon, the road is littered with kangaroo carcasses. This is the northern tip of Gamilaraay country, once a land of rushing streams, abundant Murray Cod and Golden Perch. Now, the Moonie River has stopped running and there hasn’t been a drop of rain worth mentioning for more than three years – nor a grain crop. Hundred-year-old trees are dying. On the historic Bullamon Plains station, paddocks are entirely barren. There is nothing but dry, ochre-coloured earth. The old-timers say it’s the worst drought in living memory.
Yet the people of Thallon are fighting back with everything they’ve got. And that’s why The Weekly has travelled here this Christmas – not to see the country at its worst but to celebrate human nature at its best and most inspiring – to introduce our readers to some of the people who call this country home.
The greatest gift
You might have heard of Thallon, the little town that could. Once a lively railway town and a thriving centre for grain production, it fell on hard times a decade or so ago. Passenger trains stopped visiting and the railway depot, service station, cafe and general store all shut their doors, but locals rallied to bring their town back to life.
Leanne and Stuart Brosnan were mightily involved in that first lifesaving bid. Leanne was a country girl from Goondiwindi when, back in 1987, she arrived in Thallon, age 20, straight out of uni, to take up her first teaching post. The town was booming. There were 90 children and four teachers at the school.
Within a month or two, Leanne met Stuart, a wool classer and rugby player from one of the district’s old farming families: “It was love at first sight and we were pretty much inseparable from that moment. I rang a friend and said, ‘I’ve met the man I’m going to marry’. Stuart proposed just a couple of months later.”
However, tragedy struck when a diving accident left Stuart quadriplegic. Doctors warned Leanne of the problems they’d face but she supported Stuart through months in hospital and rehabilitation, and the town stood by the couple in ways that now bring tears to her eyes. There were fundraisers and offers of physical assistance but most importantly, she says, “they didn’t take a step back with Stuart. They just treated him like they’d always treated him, and that was the biggest gift”.
The couple moved east to Bundaberg for Stuart’s health, but when they learned that the town was in trouble, they were determined to give back. Word had reached them that the pub could go under, so the Brosnans rallied a group of former Thallon teachers and locals to buy the social and cultural hub of the town.
Today, the Francis Hotel is the only shop in Thallon, offering hospitable accommodation, great beer, damn fine pub food, take-away pizza, a morning espresso, plus it handles the mail run (because the teachers also bought the post office) and a side room has been seconded for a tiny general store. The publican, Bryan Guppy, is doing it tough this year but the owners are committed to keeping the Francis open.
Thallon reaped a record grain harvest in 2013 but they weren’t out of the woods yet. So a plan was hatched to put the town on the tourist trail. The Progress Association applied for grants, raised funds and enlisted a pair of Brisbane artists – Joel Fergie (‘The Zookeeper’) and Travis Vinson (‘Drapl’) – to paint an eye-catching mural on Grain Corp’s silos. They also erected a two-metre high sculpture of a northern hairy-nosed wombat.
The ABC’s Back Roads got wind of the excitement, and as Bullamon Plains grazier and cropper – and the town’s top tourism ambassador – Bill Willis says: “We had our 15 minutes of fame, and that put Thallon on the map”. By the following winter, a steady stream of travellers was calling in.
But that was before the worst drought in living memory.
All for love
At 94, Maureen Pagan has a spring in her step and a sparkle in her eyes. She wears a perfectly pressed linen dress in shocking pink and arrives bearing home-baked biscuits that are sweet, golden and break in two with a perfect snap. She still makes her prized Christmas pudding from a recipe she found in The Weekly in 1978.
Maureen has been out in the yard this morning feeding the birds. “There’s nothing for them to eat,” she begins. “And the kangaroos are dying. When I came home from Toowoomba last night, I looked around me and said, ‘Why did I come back to this?’”
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Role model royals
As we celebrate William and Kate’s 10th wedding anniversary, Juliet Rieden asks: can the close-knit Cambridge five steady the royal ship with their duty, dignity and family values?
TOGETHER FOR CHANGE
As allegations of sexual assault and harassment swirl around our federal Parliament, Samantha Trenoweth sits down with some of the most powerful women in the land to consider the issues that have shaken the nation.
Remember the time
APRIL 1823: The first Sydney Royal Easter Show
“Finding my power” -Toni Pearen
Facing her demons (and a few snakes) in the jungle led to a personal and professional renaissance for Toni Pearen. Jenny Brown meets the former pop princess as she steps into a brave new life.
“I was lost before Lauren”
It may seem a charmed life, but MasterChef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo has had serious lows with the highs. He tells Sue Smethurst how love saved him.
Ray of hope
Nobody would consider the parents of children with cancer lucky, but for two families who were included in a ground-breaking Australian program to fight childhood cancers, lucky is exactly how they feel. Genevieve Gannon meets those families.
My story: My journey out of darkness
When screenwriter Kristen Dunphy checked herself into a psychiatric ward, her world was unbearably dark, but with pen and paper in hand, she found the glimmer of hope that carried her home.
In the name of my daughter
When her 20-year-old daughter was brutally murdered in a Queensland hostel, Rosie Ayliffe needed answers. What she uncovered compelled her to launch a campaign to expose the dangers backpackers face in Australia, she tells Juliet Rieden.
Best friends forever
A trip down memory lane makes the perfect birthday gift for a much loved childhood friend.
How To Max Your Morning Rituals
In our quest for the best possible wake-up and start to our day, we need a multisensory approach that draws us out of slumber and kickstarts our body clock. Here, Russell Jones, author of Sense, shares simple ways to feel good.
Herb Stuart’s EFI, dohc, 32-valve, road race Cougar is the cure for the common Mustang
THUMBS AHOY! MIX AND MATCH: ADVANCED SLAP
Welcome! For the last year or so we’ve been working on some very advanced slap bass techniques.
The contemporary home is already much different than what our grandparents were used to with the internet and smart devices laying around.
FORD TO GO ALL ELECTRIC IN EUROPE BY 2030
Ford announced a major push into electric vehicles in Europe, vowing to convert its entire passenger car lineup on the continent to electrics by 2030.
BEATING DR. DIESEL
A 6 HP HORNSBY OIL ENGINE
An Attention-Grabbing Customer Collector
Shuggie Bain Makes It Out
Out First-time novelist Douglas Stuart’s unsparing account of a life not unlike his own might be the best-reviewed book you’ve not yet read in 2020.
72ND STREET AND CENTRAL PARK, NY
August Creating Virtual Couture World With London's Institute of Digital Fashion
August Getty’s couture is going virtual with the help of a new digital fashion shop, the Institute of Digital Fashion in London.
Escape to the mountains
My name is Kristen McCamey and I am a Wenatchee local.