Australia

Australia's outback yacht club hopes for royal approval

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Media captionThe yacht club 700km from the Australian coast

In outback Australia, where the humour is as dry as the climate, one farmer has an ambitious plan - to stage a boat race fit for royalty.

Defying one of the worst droughts in living memory, James Walker will soon open the Outback Yacht Club on his family's vast cattle property in Longreach, Queensland, writes the BBC's Greg Dunlop in Sydney.

Australia's remote north-east is a long way from the tropical resorts of Far North Queensland and the flashy tourist strips of the Gold Coast.

Starlight fades into burnt-orange sunrises. Squadrons of corellas, cockatoos and quarrions roam the skies. Soaring summer heatwaves can give way to violent flash floods.

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Image caption The remote Australian farm wants to bring Prince Harry back to Queensland

It is where bush poet Banjo Patterson wrote the country's unofficial national anthem Waltzing Matilda and the place that launched Qantas, the national airline that bears the flying kangaroo.

"The sun fills the day in the morning with this brilliant piercing light," Mr Walker said, speaking from his family's Camden Park station, which at 18,000 acres is bigger than Lichtenstein.

"At night, you've got no interfering light. It's the best place in the world to see the stars and the Milky Way."

This is, as the Australian saying goes, a land of drought and flooding rains.

After suffering through one of the worst dry spells in living memory, winter downpours have spurred muted celebration.

Farmers stop short of labelling recent showers drought-breaking but consistent rainfalls have raised spirits.

Dams are full, creeks are flowing and paddocks are drenched.

Image copyright James Walker
Image caption At the age of two, the younger James Walker got to see his first rainfall

Without water, farmers are forced to hand feed stock and cart water across paddocks.

A drought here and there is sustainable for many farmers but dry spells year after year can force graziers to sell off their livestock.

"It's been such a big drought," Mr Walker said. "We've been destocked three years but it's been a five-year drought for many people."

The fifth generation farmer's son, who shares his name, only saw his first rainstorm in February, aged two.

'Celebrating our way of life'

The expansive property began offering tours more than five years ago, bringing in welcome dollars in lean times.

The idea to stage a regatta 700km (435 miles) from the coast was conceived, in part, to draw attention to the plight of farmers.

"It's a way of celebrating our way of life," said Mr Walker, "but also shows how resilient Australian farmers are".

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Image caption The drought has been disastrous for many farmers in the region
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Those who have been able to hold on to their cattle have had to feed and water them by hand

The fledgling club is recruiting members and will launch at a regatta in October this year, taking in unforgettable panoramic views.

Sailors will have to tow their vessels across hundreds of kilometres of dirt roads to get the unique event.

The club is also searching for a signature cocktail to christen the event - likely to be rum-based as a tribute to its traditional connections to the bush and sailing.

"The favourite out here is usually rum and Coke," Mr Walker said.

"I think with the yacht club opening there'll be a lot of champagne and creative cocktails."

But he also hopes to get a special guest appearance.

The Royal Family are no strangers to this part of the world - the Queen opened the Stockman's Hall of Fame at Longreach nearly 30 years ago, and as young men, the Prince of Wales and the Prince of Cambridge both mustered cattle on horseback.

"We'd love to complete the Windsor trio and get Prince Harry out there for our yacht club launch," Mr Walker said.

Image copyright Sally Cripps/QCL
Image caption The Outback Yacht Club will launch later this year in Longreach, Queensland

An endorsement could put the Outback Yacht Club on the map.

"We're imploring them to officiate it and call it the Royal Outback Yacht Club," Mr Walker said.

If all goes to plan, the club will now join the ranks of Australia's other unique sailing venues including the semi-permanent Lake Eyre Yacht Club in Marree, the waterless Henley-on-Todd in Alice Springs and the Beer Can Regatta in Darwin.

"We want people from all over the world to visit the Outback Yacht Club," Mr Walker said.

"We really want to show off the quintessential Australia instead of just the coastlines."

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