By John Sanderson
Visitors to outback Queensland have been finding their ‘tree change’ while fossicking for gemstones.
Imagine a van park on a mountain where there is no traffic, and the only noise comes from birds and wallabies.
Victoria and Darrell Bentham dreamt of this and eventually bought a jewel of a park at Sapphire, west of Emerald in Central Queensland.
If you think of all the nights you have endured barking dogs, traffic and floodlights in van parks, you won’t put up with it here.
Darrell finds he is conducting a fur and feather appreciation society, as he educates guests on how to attract and feed wallabies, lorikeets, apostle birds, magpies, cockatoos, currawongs and crows.
The crows are so chilled that they stuff themselves, stagger onto a tree branch and forget to do the annoying squark.
Darrell spends a lot of time making guests welcome, helping them “leave” their busy lives for long enough to discover the Australian bush.
The Benthams had to leave Yorkshire to give out bird seed and demonstrate the correct way to sift for and identify sapphires, the jewel of the district.
“Arrive as guests, leave as friends” is the motto on their business card.
The park caters for 30 powered sites, extra unpowered sites and is dog friendly.
We did this for a lifestyle change, not to get rich,” said Victoria.
Their story began when as childhood sweethearts in 1985 at Skipton High School, North Yorkshire.
They followed different paths and in 1996 Victoria migrated to Australia, a daring move for Yorkshire folk who “usually don’t go anywhere”.
In 2008 Darrell visited relatives in Perth and invited Victoria to fly 5 hours across from Melbourne for dinner together. Neither had mentioned romance since high school and neither had married but it seemed true love was here at last.
They married in 2010, aged 41 and settled down in St Kilda Melbourne.
To them, Australia had the craziness that Yorkshire folks love.
They had been shocked by “stone the crows” until they discerned it meant the same as “ekky thump” or “holy moley”.
“How ya goin mate” was easy to embrace as it matched “ayup” and “don’t come the raw prawn” was identified with the Yorkshire expression “tin tin tin” (I’ve had a look and it isn’t in the tin.)
City life grated on the Benthams in 2019, particularly after Victoria survived a cancer operation and chemotherapy.
Darrell sat Victoria down and gave her his “life’s too short, we need a big adventure” speech.
Then they took two years to find Sapphire Van Park, 45 km west of Emerald, nestled in a forest of trees and (Aussie bush animals seemed to welcome them) and in 10 minutes decided to buy it for a total lifestyle change.
And here is where the “magic” happens. Visitors don’t need to buy the park, because if they allow the vibes to rub off, they get into the mood for a life change.
Guests Arthur and Bobbi from Logan City said the park and the Benthams’ friendliness changed their direction.
“We arrived early September and were attracted to the peaceful slumber here without pol air helicopters, sirens and the sound of neighbours arguing at night. We decided we needed to sell out and move up here,” said Arthur, who is a mobile mechanic and works for BCF. “People are so friendly and freely share their stories so why not get up here and have a look people?” said Arthur.
Victoria added, “park guests are impressed that we walk out of the office to welcome every arrival. In 12 months the bush has helped us both flourish so that we meet the people, hear their stories, teach them about wildlife, show them how to look for sapphires, and they leave as friends,” said Victoria.
Ron from Morayfield, Brisbane, formerly spent 60 to 80 hours a week doing shop-fitting and got frustrated when Sydney was locked down. After discovering Darrell and Victoria, he fine tunes facilities around the park to encourage people to interact and enjoy themselves. Recently he organised a bake-off which fostered family spirit.
“There has to be more to life than working till you drop. The spirit of generosity in this place rubs off on people that come here and they destress.
Everyone talks to you here but in the city I wouldn’t know 10 people,” said Ron, who feels he has “connected” with the bush.
Karen and Nick Burley from Emu Park said the operators of the park had been incredibly engaging with both young and old.
“They are passionate about the area and willing to impart knowledge of fossicking and the history of the area. The Park is a real Sapphire Gem,” the Burleys said.
Not just the sapphires but it is the people, conversations and creatures that add “sparkle” if anyone is privileged to go bush.