Stories from the campfire

November 29, 2017

Glen Paterson is the post master in Wyandra, Queensland.

Veteran journalist Gus Underwood talks to the post master at tiny Wyandra in outback Queensland and discovers what the topic of conversation invariably gets around to on evenings around the campfire in the tourist season.

GLENN Paterson says he likes nothing better than sitting around a campfire and chatting with passing tourists who have camped at his modest caravan stop in the tiny town of Wyandra, south of Charleville, in south western Queensland.

In the past three years Glenn has found that one topic of conversation is continually raised by unaware passers-by travelling south on the Mitchell Highway: ‘‘What happened to that bridge south of Charleville?’’

Glenn can offer an instant answer: ‘‘Plenty.’’

In early September in 2014 a truck carrying over 50 tonnes of ammonium nitrate toppled off the Angellala bridge on a moonless night at about 9.50pm. When the diesel from the truck’s punctured petrol tank came into contact with the nitrate, it set off an explosion of monumental proportions.

In fact the noise of the explosion was registered at over two on a Richter scale at Charleville 30km to the north.

The noise was described by the principal inspector of explosives for the Natural Resources Department, Ryan Brogden, as ‘‘the most powerful in Australian transporting history’’.

Two fire trucks that had arrived at the scene before the explosion were also a write-off .

The driver of the truck, rescued by two passing truckies before the explosion, received burns to about 35 per cent of his body but miraculously no-one was killed. Eight people — including five emergency services officers — were injured. Catastrophic damage was also done to roads and infrastructure in the vicinity.

These days the tell-tale sign of that terrible night is the sudden end of the railway line on a pylon at the former bridge.

Luckily the line had been out of commission for some two years prior to that eventful night.

But getting back to Glen and his joint roles as post master, caravan park and theatre owner at Wyandra.

The tiny whistlestop has become known in recent years as the town that produced champion racehorse trainer Peter Moody, who prepared the great galloper Black Caviar during an unbeaten 25-race career.

Glenn has been at Wyandra for the past 13 years after answering an advertisement that necessitated a massive seachange — moving from an east coast existence to running a remote post office in outback Queensland where the temperature reaches particularly unkind maximums during the summer months.

Glenn was quick to realise trying to eke a living out of a town that boasts only 30 residents needs plenty of push and positivity and he has not been afraid to make it known with some subtle hints on signs around his business to that effect.

He quickly realised he needed some extra cash flow to complement his role as post master so he added a caravan park and movie theatre to this business.

Every night after he feeds guests around a campfire he fires up the theatre — a modest, elevated tin shed that has a genuine outback feeling — which provides movietone news clips from 1932 to 1974. These go down well with the older travellers and intrigue the younger tourists.

But as far as Glenn is concerned nothing beats those winter nights around the campfire.

He says it takes his mind off all his worries.

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