Prairie - definition:
1. an extensive, level or slightly undulating, mostly treeless tract of land
2. an area of land of low topographic relief that principally supports grasses and herbs
If you've driven through Prairie in Queensland's Flinders Shire, then you understand that the dictionary definition is correct and the naming of the town was accurate.
Just 45km south of Hughenden this tiny settlement enjoys a 360 degree panorama of, prairie, although it's not a term usually used by Australians who would prefer terms like grassland or just plain old field or paddock.
The main street holds the post office-cum-cafe, a service station, a cluster of houses and a classic outback pub that offers free camping out the back. The Liliputian state school is probably the historical and cultural showpiece of Prairie. It's been operating since 1894 and today it's responsible for the education of nine students. In boom times sixty kids attended and half of them took class 'outside, under a tree' as there wasn't room inside for everyone. The school also has hosted as few as three pupils. These kids must have the best teacher/student ratio in Australia. The Principal is the head teacher while two teacher-aides help out in the classroom as well take care of the cleaning and gardening duties. A relief teacher attends once a week. Some of the kids at Prairie State School are third generation students with their parents and grandparents still helping out at the P&C. The school motto is 'Truth Conquers All Things'.
Prairie's history is not dissimilar to many small outback Queensland towns. John Lort Stokes named the nearby Flinders River in 1841. Stokes had been a midshipman and later a lieutenant aboard the famous 'Beagle' and was later to Captain the ship. He had been speared in the shoulder by an aboriginal man a year and a half earlier.
The earliest occupants were the Dalleburra tribe. Alexander Jardine preceded explorers such as Frederick Walker and William Landsborough who passed through the Hughenden and Prairie regions in the 1860's looking for Burke and Wills. Their reports held enough encouragement to impel pioneers like Ernest Henry to claim a land selection soon after.
Cobb & Co established a changing post in Prairie and in 1878 construction began on the railway link to Townsville. A booming wool and shearing industry and the incessant railway construction saw towns like Prairie develop into thriving rural centres. The advent of better road transport removed the need to service large numbers of drovers and railway gangs and many small towns fell by the wayside, with survivors such as Prairie remaining to service the local pastoral industry and the highway trade.
Nearly sixty kilometres south of Prairie is Koorinya Falls Nature Reserve, a quiet natural waterhole that transforms to an impressive set of ledge falls after heavy rain.
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