Our Regional Recovery Officers are in the enviable position of visiting beautiful parts of the country and meeting amazing people who, even though they’re dealing with the challenges of drought, flood, bushfire and COVID-19, maintain a positive outlook and a good sense of humour.
Camooweal’s Catherine Green is one of those people and we caught up with her earlier in the year
When you drive into Queensland’s tiny outback town of Camooweal, the thing that strikes you is the sense of community.
It’s small – just 310 people – but it’s clean, it’s intensely aware of its history and it welcomes outsiders to come and see what makes it tick. The town is just 15 kilometres from the Territory border to the west, but in one of those whims of Australia’s local governments, the main street there legally ends in Mount Isa about 200 kilometres to the east.
The same main street straddles the town and straight away there’s a sight that stands out.
Tucked between the service station that’s a lifeline for tourists and the community hall opposite the pub, stand two galvanised iron sheds that cast their wrinkled grey frowns over the main road.
For decades – two generations at least – Freckleton’s Store served the outback community around this border outpost. It served the pastoral stations with food and groceries, it provided the R.M. Williams boots and the Akubra hats that are the ringers’ Aussie brands and that are so depended upon in the bush. It was a gathering place for people who came to town for “supplies”.
In this more modern day, those essentials come from suppliers who take their orders online in Mount Isa and who send their clients’ needs directly from the cold stores and general wares stores to the stations.
Freckleton’s closed in 2009 with the retirement of its last owner. The buildings are heritage listed, but it’s far harder preserving people than it is their premises.
Camooweal has, though, a secret weapon.
Across the street and just a hundred metres closer to the eastern edge of the town sits a single building by the road. It stands out more than Freckleton’s, adorned with Streets signs and Australia Post livery, as well.
Catherine Green wears big boots in a little store and she has become - by rights – in many ways the successor to Freckleton’s. She sells ice creams and groceries, newspapers and bread. Hers is the town’s only general store and she is content not to try to be something she can’t handle.
“I don’t try to compete for the station business, because frankly it would be beyond me to handle it because I run this place on my own,” she says.
Catherine’s modesty belies the fact that she is crucial to her community. She is the only source of so much that Camooweal needs to continue to operate.
Her customers are the daily stream of tourists (when the border is open) and the needs of the population of Camooweal and its immediate district.
Catherine is also the town’s Post Mistress and remains modest about what she means to her community.
Several years of challenging conditions from low rainfall have been hard on the district. Then the crippling COVID-19 border closures slammed the door on the tourist trade that was a key part of her business.
The fact that Queensland and the Territory are now open to each other has started to restore some of her business, but there still remains uncertainty about how robust that traffic will be in the face of future outbreaks.
“Really the town has coped well, because the locals stick together – they understand,” says Catherine.
“Our strength in Camooweal is our community,” says Catherine. “People here work together … the sense of community overall is the best thing about the place.”
The generosity of spirit runs deep in this small place. In reality, Camooweal now has just a handful of businesses still operating and Catherine’s General Store is a key asset for the town.
Like many Australians in other small communities, in far more congested parts of the country, the Australia Post signs out front and the ice cream billboards signal a greeting that travellers and locals alike know is akin to the famous Aussie g’day … and often after driving hundreds of kilometres to get to this outpost in the long, long main street at Camooweal.
It’s an irresistible greeting that brings a welcome break in a journey across this marvellous country – and a treat along the way, as well.