Longreach is a town that generations of Australians have hankered to reach.
For drovers it’s been the end of walking cattle to railheads and therefore a place to collect wages, have a wash and soft bed. Then there would likely be a chance to drown a well-earned thirst in a long bar.
Modern tourists see the town as a Queen of the Outback. Home of the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Museum that straddle its highway. Young men and women from all over Australia used to come here for an education at the Longreach Pastoral College.
Station workers, primary producers, horsemen and horsewomen, adventurers, researchers and people looking to leave the ‘big smoke’ behind have fallen in love with its skies and open spaces. Moreover, there is that fresh breeze through the grasslands that have fed cattle and sheep – they in turn have fed whole cities across Australia for generations.
In the wake of years of drought and the massive damage done to the region by the 2019 floods, places like Longreach are doing it tough.
The town is slowly starting to breathe again, with help from the Australian Government’s efforts through drought relief funding including the Drought Communities Programme which has seen the local council eligible to $2 million to provide community infrastructure, creating local jobs and boosting the local economy.
The man driving a lot of his community’s recovery is the Shire’s mayor, Tony Rayner.
Tony assumed the leadership of his council after a term as an elected member.
His background is education and training, so it is little surprise to find the Mayor at the forefront of efforts to breathe life into the mothballed pastoral college that until recently served the town for more than 50 years.
His vision includes reinvigorated college facilities adjacent to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame as one of two research hubs in Australia. He also believes government public services should be decentralised into communities like Longreach.
“We have proved people can work from anywhere in this day and age,” he says, “so let’s put 15 or 20 people into communities like ours, to be based and work from here. Bringing them and their families to these towns can make a world of economic difference to our part of the country.”
Tony says strategies like this bring young people to regional towns, some of whom form strong bonds within their local communities, and who then end up staying.
“They bring new talents and skills that build on our lifestyle and growth – it’s great to watch,” he says.
This is just one of a range of ideas the Mayor is hoping will assist recovery across the north. He and six other Local Government leaders are working together on long-term plans for these small and widespread communities to rebuild and – better than that – become more resilient to nature’s extremes.
Longreach has commissioned research into the revitalised use of its riverbanks for the benefit of the whole community. Planning for greenspaces and the use of the Thompson River for fishing and tourism is now in a serious consultation phase.
“As a community we are about making this a terrific place to live and grow,” Mayor Raynor said.
“Once we bring people here, they tend to fall in love with the place, especially if they put down roots in community activities. If we encourage that it will have great long-term benefits.”