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Rough and tumble times in outback Queensland

Danny Parker … loved scaring me out of my wits. Surely we’re flying too close to the ground. And we’re on our side — with my side towards the ground. And we don’t have any doors.
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The chopper pilot, Danny Parker, is loving it. He knows that I’m scared out of my wits as I take my turn at a dose of heli-mustering at Shandonvale, a huge Outback property ‘just’ north of the Queensland town of Barcaldine.

Just about the only thing to hang on to is Danny’s shotgun, used only to fire rubber bullets to move recalcitrant stock from under trees.

As flat as you’d like and wetter than at most times … the country around Shandonvale from Tim Rainer’s chopper.

It’s really not that scary, I tell myself as we round up a flock of sheep, and think that they wouldn’t let me do this if it was really dangerous. But I’m kidding myself. It is scary and I’m near sure that it’s dangerous to boot.

Then, just to show off his skill, Danny rounds up some camels, which seem to almost outnumber the sheep in this part of the world.

Getting a taste of heli-mustering is just one of the highlights of our visit to Shandonvale.

We’d been picked up at Barcaldine by our host, Deon Stent-Smith, for the ‘short’ drive to Shandonvale.

Deon Stent-Smith … our fabulous host at Shandonvale.

It takes an hour-and-a-half but you quickly adjust to the vast distances involved in living in Central-Western Queensland.

The landscape is only monotonous to the unobservant. Look more closely and you’ll see subtle changes at every turn. Well, ‘every turn’ is a euphemism in this dead-flat big-sky country, but you get my gist.

After settling in to our accommodation in the delightfully renovated shearers’ quarters, we follow Deon in one of the property’s three 4WD jeeps — you quickly get used to travelling in these — to a sumptuous champagne-charged pre-dinner appetiser beside a river/waterhole that’s full to the brim following just a few mls of rain the day before.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The 10-year drought hasn’t broken yet, and plenty more rain is required before that eventuates.

Accommodation at Shandonvale … in the refurbished shearers’ quarters.

Then it’s on to the homestead for dinner, a lavish feast largely prepared by Deon’s wife, Lane, who I’m sure had something to do with the pre-dinner nibbles as well.

The accommodation itself is comfortable rather than grand in the inner-city five-star sense, and you do have to venture along a board-walk to the shower, though there is also a deep bath-tub to soak the body and indulge in.

Breakfast … it’s easy to forget just how good real, unadulterated bacon is.

The makings for breakfast have been delivered to the communal lounge/dining/kitchen — farm-fresh eggs, home-baked bread, the most delicious bacon and an assortment of condiments.

You tend to forget how scrumptious bacon can be when it isn’t filled with preservatives and colour-enhancing chemicals.

A tour of Shandonvale shows just how big the property is — and it actually is quite small by Outback standards — and also gives a wonderful insight into the sheep, the camels and the kangaroos that inhabit this gorgeous countryside.

Camels at Shandonvale … Seem to sometimes outnumber the sheep.

That’s driven home by a couple of quite gentle hours on a helicopter tour at the hands of Tim Rainer — as opposed to the downright scariness of a taste of heli-mustering — who takes us cross-country past the small town of Aramac to the fresh-water Lake Dunn and its nearby salt-water companion Lake Galilee.

And then there are Lane’s pets — a couple of pigs, a few sheep and goats, the odd emu, an assortment of geese, and the utterly cute lamb and baby camel that share an enclosure by the homestead.

Lane Stent-Smith … with a few of her pets.

Yes, that the real , and you’ll get plenty of it at Shandonvale, which is charging a ridiculously cheap $150-a-night per head, including accommodation, activities and all meals and drinks.

John Rozentals was a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland.

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