BOB “Willo’’ Wilson is the kind of man who, if you’re touring Queensland’s central west, you know you’ll bump into sooner or later. His many friends in the Outback ensure it, in fact. “Have you met Willo, yet?’’ they’ll ask. Or, “If you’re in Blackall, make sure you catch up with Willo.’’
Willo is a volunteer member of Outback Mates, a tourism ambassador program which helps market the central west and ensure visitors get the most out of their experiences.
When he’s not recommending friends and experiences down the track, he works as a volunteer at the Blackall Woolscour…as often as he can get time off, that is. He’s a leatherworker, a stockwhip-maker, a painter and a travelling teacher of art to the disadvantaged and unemployed.
Born in Allora, near Warwick, in 1944, and brought up in Goondiwindi, he was adopted by another family and says he never got to know his real parents. “My step-dad was a packhorse drover,’’ he says. “I worked as a ringer when I was young and did a lot of horse work.
“When I was about 27, I went into the shearing sheds, and before that I did some fencing and stone pitching. I’ve pressed wool in the eastern sheds, did seven years in Moree and worked for one of the biggest cattle dealers in Australia. I came here (Blackall) in 1985 and worked in shearing. I got about a bit.’’
A work injury along the way slowed Willo down, which gave him the chance to concentrate on a lifelong interest in painting. Inspired by the lore and heritage of the bush, he specialises in miniature watercolours and in oils, and is regularly commissioned to paint murals and other artworks. He puts much of what he earns back into the community.
Like everyone else in the west who is involved with tourism, he knows how vital it is for the west.
“The sheep are gone and we claim tourism as our industry now, but we have to earn a living from it in a five-month season. We have an icon attraction here but more could be done to put Blackall on the map. We have to find a way to hold tourists here for more than a day.’’
That’s a perennial lament in the bush, but thanks to Willo and his network of mates, the real Outback experiences, the ones visitors remember, are just a friendly yarn away.
Article by John Wright.