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The Prince and Duchess arrive in Longreach

5th November 2012

Longreach

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall visit Royal Flying Doctors

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An orphaned kangaroo joey stole The Duchess of Cornwall's heart today as The Prince of Wales and his wife were welcomed to the Australian Outback.

The Duchess cuddled 12-month-old Rooby Blue during a visit to the remote rural settlement of Longreach and joked: "There's a first time for everything."

His Royal Highness also embraced the life of the bushwhacker, donning an iconic akubra hat when the royal couple visited the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame, a heritage centre chronicling the pioneering cattle men who developed the Outback.

With temperatures reaching a blistering 40 degrees The Prince and his wife may have been tempted to take up an offer of an ice cold beer from Queensland Premier Campbell Newman who had welcomed Their Royal Highnesses at the airport.

But The Duchess sheltered under a parasol and said the burning sun had produced "a nice dry heat" in comparison with Papua New Guinea, where they had begun their Diamond Jubilee tour at the weekend.

It is Her Royal Highnesses' first visit to Australia and in true Aussie style the locals later held a barbecue for their visitors.

When The Duchess was introduced to the joey, being cared for by farmers Nic and Carley Walker, she said "Oh hello," then "Very friendly. Doesn't it look pretty?"

Rooby Blue, wrapped in a cloth bag to mimic her mother's pouch, was stroked under the chin by The Duchess who then happily held the animal.

The Duchess also took an interest in the orphan and gave the joey a pat on the head, prompting his wife to say: "That's so sweet."

Mrs Walker, 33, who lives with her husband and two daughters on a sheep and cattle station near Longreach, said: "She was orphaned - her mother was killed on the road. A chap that was travelling from Melbourne picked her up and pulled her from her mother's pouch.

"Someone called me and I picked her up. We've had her since August and will have her a few months more, when she will be fully released."

Mrs Walker said the royal meeting went better than expected: "Rooby is a redhead, so she is by nature temperamental. I wasn't sure if she would pop out of the pouch or kick out, but it went very well."

The Prince put on his akubra hat just before giving a speech to the local community and dignitaries.

Clearly in a relaxed mood, The Prince told the crowd of his time in Australia in the 1960s, dealing with snakes and kangaroos on cross-country runs.

Reminiscing about his time studying at Timbertop, a remote annexe of Geelong Church of England Grammar School in Melbourne, he said: "I was fortunate enough to experience just a little of Outback life while I was a schoolboy in Victoria nearly 50 years ago.

"I cannot pretend to remember a great deal about my school curriculum but I can recall in every detail the long treks through the bush in searing heat. For company I remember funnel-web spiders, bull ants, leeches that could only be removed with a cigarette end, snakes of every description and kangaroos that overtook us on cross-country runs through the bush at Timbertop."

The Prince went on to say: "Ladies and gentlemen, the main reason for this 'bonza barbie' is to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee with its theme of service to others.

"At the height of the British summer in June, as the rain lashed down, nine Australian surfboats fought their way down the River Thames as part of the Diamond Jubilee pageant. Although the skills of those lifesavers were not required that day, the sight of those yellow shirts reminded us of all those Australians who do their bit for their communities and the wider good."

With a population of just under 3,000 and miles from the coast, Longreach was the first port of call in the royal couple's six-day Diamond Jubilee tour of Australia before they head to New Zealand.

The town is home to the airline Qantas and in one of the company's original hangars the couple saw a demonstration by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and the Prince - patron of the service's British friends - named a new plane.

In the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame they saw a display of whip cracking on horseback and inspected some bush artefacts, while the Prince was presented with a stock whip.

Rob Thomas, a director of the Hall of Fame, said the attraction reflected a dying way of life. "It's a celebration of the stockmen in opening up Australia."

But the changing economics of farming meant that farms were getting bigger, and what was once done on horseback was now done by motorcycle, car and plane, he said, adding: "But there will always be a need for stockmen. Riding horses is essential - there are some places so remote you cannot get fuel.

"And there are some wonderful old stockmen. The stockman is a tough, raw guy who can go through heat and floods. He spends months in the bush on his own. They are wiry, they are strong and they are some of the best horsemen in the world."

Their Royal Highnesses went on a walkabout towards the end of their visit and the couple chatted with the crowd, some of whom had driven for hours to see the royal visitors.

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Arrival in Longreach, Queensland

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