'Outback Dan' turns drought into Longreach tourism story

Longreach property tours all part of resilience lessons learnt


The Big Dry
After seven years of drought, personalised property tours have given Longreach's Dan Walker the resilience needed to stay close to the land he loves. Photo supplied.

After seven years of drought, personalised property tours have given Longreach's Dan Walker the resilience needed to stay close to the land he loves. Photo supplied.

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Longreach's Daniel Walker had seen resilience in action all his life, watching his parents David and Lyn roll with the punches of the weather.

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Longreach's Daniel Walker had seen resilience in action all his life, watching his parents David and Lyn roll with the punches delivered by the weather.

It was their example, of working with what's in front of you, that helped Dan and wife Brooke when the compounding failure of five summer wet seasons in western Queensland hit home.

"We went from selling 12,000 bales of hay in 2009 and the same again the following year, to nothing," he said.

"I saw that tourism was a more structured experience.

"The (Australian Stockman's) Hall of Fame, thanks to people like my grandfather, gave us a new idea of what could be.

"It had 55,000 visitors in its first year - people were actually responding."

Read more: Walkers tell their visitors just how it is

The total destocking of the family property, Camden Park, 15km east of Longreach, in 2015, was the catalyst for 'Outback Dan', a personally guided experience of the property and its history.

His family's story is one of many examples from around western Queensland that a major survey undertaken by social scientist Dr Dana Kelly tapped into, and which were shared at the Northern Beef Research Update conference in Brisbane last week.

According to conference presenter and Western Queensland Drought Appeal chairman Dr David Phelps, the research was undertaken to learn from the proactive approach his wider community was taking to stay resilient in the face of ongoing drought.

It concluded that building drought resistance outside the farmgate, via place-based tourism and diversification investments, such as solar power, were important ingredients.

Related: Webke tackles western drought report

"Financially, I had to either go into tourism or - I didn't really have a plan B," Mr Walker said. "We didn't want to leave and we wanted to still be on the land somehow."

Telling the family story of resilience on the land and how rural communities roll with flood and drought punches was the most authentic way he could see of making a mark in the industry.

Starting with tagalong tours and building that up through word of mouth, it made no money at first, which would have discouraged many.

Whip cracking demonstrations are all part of the property tours offered by 'Outback Dan' Walker at Longreach to diversify in drought times.

Whip cracking demonstrations are all part of the property tours offered by 'Outback Dan' Walker at Longreach to diversify in drought times.

Mr and Mrs Walker, with the support of their family and community persevered with their idea despite also coping with the deep personal tragedy of the loss of their two-year-old daughter Willow in an on-property accident.

One of the aspects of the property tours Mr Walker now enjoys most is the interest shown by the 500-plus school students that visit each year.

"It might mean one of them, wanting to be a journo or a nurse, might be inspired to do that in this part of the world," he said.

He is also very mindful of fellow graziers, many of them third or fourth generation property owners, who live far from a town, meaning they are too remote to offer similar opportunities.

"Properties are being sold and people are leaving after generations have been there - it's something I speak to people about too," he said.

Dan and Brooke have now added the management of Saltbush Retreat themed accommodation in Longreach and event management of the Outback Paddle Regatta to their repertoire.

"Stand-up paddle boarding is apparently the fastest growing sport in Australia - how good is it that it can give people a reason to come out here," Mr Walker said.

The story 'Outback Dan' turns drought into Longreach tourism story first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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