Eromanga you say. What's that? A town? Never heard of it. Where on earth is it? Check it out on Google Earth and you will get a good, clear image of the town and its vital statistics: 26degrees, 40mins, 06.04secs south latitude and 143degrees, 16mins, 01.15secs east longitude with an elevation of 526 feet (160.3248 metres) above sea level.
Yes, that's perhaps interesting but not very exciting. Exciting? Well, that depends on one's point of view. Jill and I visited Eromanga a few years back and we were excited to be there. You bet! After travelling 1100 kilometres westward from Brisbane and finally seeing the roadside signs counting down E60 .....E40 .....E20 ....., believe me, it was great to be in Eromanga.
The town sign welcomed us: “Eromanga Furtherest Town from the Sea”. Geologists and the local discovery of fossilized marine animals tell us that had Eromanga existed some 100 million years ago it could well have been beside the seaside. Beside the Eromanga Sea, a sea which occupied vast areas of what is now inland Australia. It still has plenty of sand and sun but what with climate change, peak oil, 9/11 etc. its boast now is that it is “the town furtherest from the sea”.
Our travel-weary bodies would accept that it was a long way from the sea; but the furthest? Later in the friendly bar of The Royal Hotel, with tired limbs somewhat lubricated, doubt set in. Picturing a map of Australia one thought: What about Birdsville? Alice Springs?
John Walker who was running The Royal at the time of our visit said that he was used to Doubting Thomases. (Johnny Walker. Now that's a great name for a hotel licensee!) He showed us a cutting from The Courier-Mail, November 1985, headed: “Eromanga's Boast doesn't hold Water”. I've checked it up since and here is what the reporter Ken Blanch had to say back then.
“If the 24 permanent residents of Eromanga, in Queensland's dusty south-west, had one claim to fame, it was that they lived in a town farther from the sea in any direction than any other in Australia. (...) Sadly, not even that claim to fame holds water. A check with surveyors at the Queensland Department of Mapping and Survey has disclosed that Eromanga is not even the farthest town from any coast in Queensland, let alone Australia. The mappers could not say without exhaustive research what town would qualify for the dubious honour.”
Shame on him for wanting to dampen Eromanga's claim to a little bit of Australian fame! But that didn't faze Mine Host for he stated that no other town had challenged their claim and until one did, this would be it. And The Royal proudly displayed the 'fact' over its front entrance. No one can dispute The Royal's right to speak for Eromanga for it has stood since shortly after the town was gazetted.
The settlement began in to 1870s, just a short decade after the Bourke and Wills expedition came to grief in these parts. It grew up around a shanty pub and was called “opal-opalis”. It provided a service to the numerous opal miners of the area. At the same time large sheep and cattle runs were being established by graziers moving up from the south in the wake of the explorers. At the turn of the twentieth century there were three hotels in this thriving settlement. Today The Royal alone stands as a monument to those early pioneers who would patronize it – the miners and drovers, the fencers and doggers, the station hands, well and dam diggers, shearers – to all those who opened up this harsh land so far from the sea.
The town thrived in the early days and changed its name to Eromanga, apparently from a local aboriginal word meaning “windy plain”. “Nope. Can't argue with that,” one local told me. “Not in summer when the blistering hot red dust is blowing through the town. In winter neither, when the cold south-westerlies bring in the dust”.
Let's get in out of the wind and listen to how a local, Stuart Mackenzie, concluded his poetic tribute to “The Furtherest Town from the Sea.”
“Then you'll arrive at the Royal Hotel
And if you ask for a Johnnie Walker
You won't get a glass of whiskey
But a smiling slow-moving talker.
This seems like a good place to stop
Because it's not a bad place to be
Drinking beer in a friendly little pub
In the furtherest town from the sea.”