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100places 100faces

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100places 100faces

Well, maybe not 'exactly' 100-faces... one thing for sure though, since leaving Melbourne Bayside 4-months ago, we have today stayed in 100-places!

There have been roadside and roadhouse stays, tavern carparks, caravan and National Parks, along with the occasional station stay.

And for our 100th stay, we're here at LARA STATION - 150km south-east of Longreach, Queensland. And to get to the homestead we've come through the 'back paddock' taking 2hrs to take the 10km cross country 'scenic route' on a puzzle of old government roads and muddy tractor tracks, opening and closing gates as we go... scenic, yes, but definitely not the recommended route which happens to be via Landsborough Hwy.

We find THE OLD QUEENSLANDER HOMESTEAD weather-worn and weary, but still grand, the rambling grounds deserted except for a friendly, well cared-for blue heeler at the gate of a modest, small cottage. A young woman camper is in a caravan out back of a larger shed. She looks surprised at the intrusion, wondering who we are. Yes, the owner Jo does live in the cottage, but is currently "out and about" and "the proper wetlands camping area is just down the road, with a caretaker on site".

Lara wetlands is a treed Eden - a large artesian pond littered with silent, brooding sentinels of bare, drowned trees, this spa and waterbird paradise all fed by the homestead bore since 1908. Tonight there's a pink dusky sky overhead, the smell of woodsmoke from happy campers' fires and the goodnight calls of kookaburra, currawong and mudlark.

In the morning it's the musical trill of black and white pied butcherbirds. And today we finally meet the owner Jo - once a Sunshine Coast girl - having left home at 16yo to become an Outback mine driver/operator.

At around 5'-6", she wears 'Western' garb, a blue shirt, well-worn boots and jeans, topped off by a tall, buff-coloured hat with a more than generous brim,  crowned with resting sunglasses. The accent is country, measured but direct.

It's obvious from the start that Jo is the real thing - feisty, and pragmatic, with steel-blue eyes, a dry sense of humour but an obvious affinity for others. And Jo is courageous, with not the slightest hint of any past misfortunes.

As she tells it, she met and partnered Michael - a freelance helicopter pilot from a local family - first buying a station to the west, then moving home to here at Lara Station, a neglected 15,000 acre rambling cattle enterprise needing lots of love - the owner-builder having died an old man, leaving the son-in-law forbidden to enter, a dislocated family, and the old man's grand old timber-lined homestead forlorn and deserted for over 30yrs.

Jo stretches her wiry frame to her full height, with both thumbs tucked into her belt. "Yeah, it was a tall order, that's for sure. And times are tough 'round here... both the land and on the stations. We get the droughts and the floods, and in later days, even a mini-tornado that lifted the old place's roof."

But as well as the running of the station itself, and being of a practical bent, Jo had other ideas - a vision in fact - suggesting to Michael tourism's possibilities to augment the viability of the place. And with Michael often away flying for a week at a time, Jo finally convinced him that they should open up their property to travelers - grey nomads, assorted families and all that share a love of the bush and the great outdoors.

Jo got to work, with Michael's help, putting her dream into action and with their very first camper arriving in 2014... a Swiss gent with accented English she hardly understood. But even though Jo was excited at the real beginning of their new venture - and spoke to Michael often whenever he was away flying - this time she kept the fantastic news secret.

A wistful smile escapes from the corner of Jo's mouth as she recalls the timing. "I decided It would be a nice surprise for Michael to see our first camper from the air, with Michael always flying in directly over the wetland camping area on his return home." There's a shrug of Jo's shoulders, Michael not making it home that night, his chopper crashing and her life partner Michael killed.

Postscript - August 22 2017 - Jo currently has the property up for sale, feeling she does not have the financial resources to allow for the development of Lara's full potential - to lovingly restore the homestead and property fulfilling a dream that was both her own and Michael's.

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