The Retirees Escape from Covid – Stanthorpe

It’s a bright Friday morning. We meet up with Rod and Kerry Hayes for our annual wine weekend, but all is different – its not May and its not somewhere exotic. Typically, we travel to a new wine district within Australia or overseas but this year we are limited to wine districts within Queensland. Typically, it is May because Queensland has a May long weekend whilst the rest of Australia is still at work. Covid and government health regulations make it different, so we are travelling in July to Stanthorpe on the New England Highway near the New South Wales border 223 kilometres (139 mi) from Brisbane via Warwick, and 811 m above sea level 3 hours away by car.

Rod spent part of his early life in Stanthorpe, and it was home for his mother and father until his death. For Rod there was the important task of checking on his father’s grave for any repair and tidying up.

The land within the boundaries of Stanthorpe is primarily used for urban purposes: housing, recreational, commercial and industrial with some undeveloped land on the hillier slopes. Crops grown in the surrounding area include vegetables, apples, grapes and stone fruit. Wine is also produced in the area, and sheep and cattle grazing is also prevalent. Mount Marlay is to the north-east of the town and rises to 918 metres (3,012 ft).

Prior to white settlement, The Kambuwal were the first settlers with their territory stretching from the western scarp of the Great Dividing Range and their eastern flank ended around Stanthorpe. Stanthorpe was founded by tin miners. People came from many countries to mine tin from 1872. Prior to 1872 the area was known as ‘Quart Pot Creek’ but from then for a time, the area was the largest alluvial tin mining and mineral field in Queensland. A more suitable name was sought by the town fathers. Stanthorpe literally means ‘tintown’, as Stannum is Latin for ‘tin’ and thorpe is Middle English for ‘village’.

When the tin prices fell, many miners turned to farming. The subtropical highland climate was suitable for growing cool climate fruits and vegetables. Grapes were first planted here in the 1860s with encouragement from the local Catholic parish priest to produce altar wine. The railway reached Stanthorpe in May 1881.

Following the First World War, Stanthorpe was a major resettlement area for soldiers recovering from mustard gas exposure. Many of these Soldier Settlers took up the land leased to them in the areas around Stanthorpe which now bear the names of First World War battlefields.

Stanthorpe is also famous for its granite outcrops which abound and present headaches for large agricultural concerns.  Its also famous as the coldest place in Queensland. So we are headed for Diamondvale – weekend accommodation for the grey nomads of south east Queensland.

Travelling by car you must cross the cattle grid which bounces the passengers awake. Our first stop is at Heritage Wines cellar door set amongst its grape vines in the village of Cottonvale just past the cattle grid. The cellar door is attached to the machinery to make the wine in a barn style building. Inside is a large fireplace in the centre of the dining space and people in festive garb are nosily celebrating Xmas in July. Opposite the fireplace and the diners is the wine tasting bar but with the event in the dining room tastings move onto the enclosed verandah. Sun streams in and the glass keeps the chill winds out. The verandah is very busy with visitors but it is very pleasant to look across the vineyard tasting the bounty of the fruit. We can see a table setting under a tree with the empty glasses abandoned no doubt because of the wind. The bottle brush is in full flower as is the wattle.

Heritage wines Cellar door, Wattle, The “tastings” bar, The vineyard and the table

After topping up our wine stocks we left Heritage Wines travelling along the old Stanthorpe road into the township and out to Diamondvale Cottages. Our cottage boasted two bedrooms with ensuite, kitchen dining and lounge, air-conditioning and timber stove. Quart Pot Creek meanders past the cottages which are also home to a mob of Wallabies, wood ducks and Tawny Frogmouth.

We checked out our surrounds and met the mob. There is a slab hut setup as the catering hut for outdoor functions overlooking Quart Pot Creek. Our cottage has a small porch off each bedroom. The bush was starting to settle for the evening and the temperature dropping.

Our wine weekends also incorporate our card evenings. So after settling in, starting the fire, and preparing the smorgasbord of things to pick at whilst polaying cards, the cards are shuffled and we are in for the evening as the wind outside howls and the temperature plumets. Tomorrow will be Queensland’s coldest day for 2021.

All tap and showering water is provided from rain water tanks and Stanthorpe was going through a rainy period after a very concerning period of drought when the Storm King dam was so low Stanthorpe was transporting water to the township. So, when the tap water turned brown and spluttered out of the taps, we suspected the tank had run dry. Our host was travelling to the Sunshine Coast some 4 hours away, so she arranged a neighbour to visit and troubleshoot the problem. He concurred with our view the tank was dry, so he diverted the water from the main tank, so we were saved.

During this chilling interlude (the back door was open to that howling wind) we learned from the neighbour that there is a bridge across the creek leading to a path following the creek down into Stanthorpe township. I decided to check it out tomorrow. After cards we stoked up the fire and retired to bed. Looking forward to a big day tomorrow.