It was only a short drive to Winton, having camped at Poddy Creek Rest Area the previous night.
The hills and mesas had now given way to red, flat plains of dry Mitchell grass that stretched for as far as the eye could see.
Our 742 plus kilometre drive from Birdsville to Winton over the last couple of days was a spectacular journey that travelled through the sand and gibber of the Diamantina Country then the braided Channel Country before passing through the foothills of the Lilleyvale Hills.
It was an interesting drive with plenty of historical sites, stunning panoramic viewpoints and great off-road camping along the way!
This was the ‘Outback’ country we loved!
Stretches of land where we saw nothing but horizon, outback pubs, and colourful characters.
From Birdsville to Bedourie to Boulia then onto the Dinosaur Capital of Winton, it was such an exciting journey… and the incredible landscape was just an added bonus – and as beautiful as any reef, rainforest or beach we had seen in this state!
Surrounded by untamed wilderness of the Simpson and the Strezlecki Deserts, the Outback town of Birdsville is full of character and history. It is also home to the famous Birdsville Hotel, camel pies, the world’s most remote music festival and an outback race that stops the state!
Further north the little town of Bedourie, meaning ‘dust storm’ certainly lived up to its name and is appropriately home to the ‘Dust Storm Sculpture’, which is a must see!
As the ‘Desert meets the Channel Country a ‘Loo with a View’ provided relief from the long drive… and one incredible view of the surrounding Outback.
Once a year the small community of Boulia comes alive for the famous Boulia Camel Races. This tiny town is home to the skeletons of marine reptiles that inhabited the inland Eromanga Sea thousands of years ago… and a mysterious phenomenon known as the Min Min lights that have spooked travellers in the outback for many many years!
On the road east is the old Middleton Hotel and a must stop for a beer and a bite to eat. You can even camp across the road at the basic campground, which the proprietors, in typical Aussie humour, refer to as the ‘Hilton Hotel’!
This is the first and the last Cobb and Co hotel still standing out of eight hotels built along this Boilia to Winton road.
At Cawnpore Lookout we were privy to incredible views of the surrounding hills, and Poddy Creek Rest Area was a magical spot to set up camp and enjoy the last rays of the amazing Queensland sun before it disappeared below the distant horizon.
Looking forward, looking back
I’ve come a long way down the track
Got a long way left to go
Making songs, from what I know
Making sense of what I’ve seen
All the love we’ve had between
You and I, along the track
Looking forward, looking back
After a long and dusty journey, our next stop heading east was Winton where we opted to stay a while and wash off some dust.
Settled by Europeans in 1873 Winton was originally named ‘Pelican Waterhole’ with a name change coming about by the first Hotelier and store owner, Robert Allen who named it ‘Winton’ after a suburb in his hometown in England.
This little town that grew on the back of sheep and cattle and is still surrounded by massive stations, was huge in comparison to the other towns we had driven through of late, and was big on reasons to stop and set up camp.
Winton has developed quite a reputation over the years as home to Australia’s unofficial national anthem ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and of course it is also known as ‘dinosaur territory’… but it’s not just dinosaur bones and poetry out here!
Winton is the Hollywood of the Outback having secured films such as ‘The Proposition’ (2005), ‘Mystery Road’ (2013) and ‘Goldstone’ (2015 – at nearby Middleton)… and aside from these ‘claims to fame’ there are many attractions, which all deserve time to explore.
The historic ‘North Gregory Hotel’ is where Banjo Paterson first performed his iconic bush poem, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and while camped here we were lucky enough to enjoy another very talented bush poet and entertainer by the name of Gregory North (I’m guessing his name is just a coincidence), who recited Banjo’s ‘The Man from Snowy River’ in fifteen different accents.
Gregory’s repertoire included Banjo’s, C J Denis and many other poets and he was certainly a very talented and humorous man taking his audience on a nostalgic, sometimes comical, yet memorable journey while spinning yarns and tall stories in a ‘fair dinkum’ Australian manner.
This hotel also attracts many campers to its ‘back lot’ for the small fee of $10 a night and allows access to the hotel amenities complete with hot showers.
These low-cost camp spots are great places for the camping community and there always seems to be an instant bond between likeminded travellers who want to talk about their camping adventures. We’ve made some incredible friends on the road and we met another here. Welcome to our blog John.
Just in and around this hotel you can spend a lot of time exploring.
There are the beautiful glass etchings of scenes from the famous poem by Daphne Mayo who went on to sculpt the frieze above the columns on the front of the Brisbane City Hall…
… and on the far fence of the camp area we marvelled at ‘Arno’s Wall’ where there seemed to be everything fixed into the fence including the kitchen sink!
There are many other grand country pubs and buildings in this town too, and the ‘Royal Open-Air Theatre’ is not to be missed. This theatre has screened movies since 1918.
The Winton ‘Diamantina Heritage Truck and Machinery Museum’ is likewise worth a visit and being able to bang out a tune on the scrap metal instruments on the ‘Musical Fence’ was a hoot…
… but the must-see attraction in this little town has to be the ‘Waltzing Matilda Centre’, which had been refurbished since our last visit after the original centre was gutted by fire.
Incorporating other exhibits also, this centre is well worth the entrance fee… but be prepared to spend some time just to appreciate the exhibitions and detailed stories of pioneers, dinosaur bones, fossils dating back eons, vast cattle stations and fields of gemstones.
Here we immersed ourselves in one of Australia’s most famous anthems through interactive exhibits and audio displays and learned that not only did Banjo perform Waltzing Matilda at the North Gregory Hotel but it was here in Winton in 1895 that this famous poem was penned with the nearby ‘Combo Waterhole’ said to be responsible for part of Banjo’s inspiration.
Nearby, ‘The Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Patterson monument’ stands in pride of place in the centre of town.
The Qantilda Museum, also part of this complex, reflects on Wintons early beginnings when it began ‘on the back of a sheep’.
It houses a treasure trove of history including Christina Macpherson Cottage, tools for working the land, a shearing shed and a BB 18 1/4 Class steam locomotive resting at the original Chorregon Station.
A little known fact about Winton is that in 1942 a US Air Force B17 made a forced landing at Carisbrooke Station, a large cattle station bordering on the outskirts of the town, and on board (with other officers) was none other than Lieutenant Commander L B Johnson who later to become the US President.
QANTAS, otherwise known as the ‘flying kangaroo’, also played an extraordinary part in Australia’s Outback history, beginning its life here in Winton way back in 1920.
Today it is the world’s second oldest commercial airline and the ‘red kangaroo’ emblem is known throughout the world as Australia’s flagship airline carrier. Its story can be learned a little further along the road (180-kilometres to be exact), at Longreach.
Like many of these outback towns, camel races are a big part of Western Queenslands unique ‘Outback Festival Trail’ and this little town comes alive in July each year for the famous ‘Winton Camel Races’.
Camel racing has had a rich history since the late 19th century however, it wasn’t until 1990 that this sport gained real exposure here in the Outback with Bedourie, Boulia and Winton all sharing the July/ August and September calendar with Birdsville for race fever!
We’ve camped at a couple of spots just out of town on previous trips. Once on the dry banks of the ‘Combo Billabong’ and another time in ‘Blandensburg National Park’.
For those interested in 4WDing, camping and bush walking, you’ll love this National Park located 17-kilometres south-west of the town, where impressive flat-topped plateaus and residual sandstone ranges provide a stunning backdrop to vast grassland plains, river flats and river red gums… but unfortunately for us this trip, all National Parks in the area were closed due to high winds and high temperatures!
Winton is also opal country and home of ‘Boulder Opals’, and just 120-kilometres from town along a dirt loop track is the mining settlement of Opalton, Queensland’s oldest opal fields and a popular spot for tourist’s keen on fossicking.
Here there are some great bush camps at just $2.50 donation a night, and for such dry, barren country this campground was a bit of a surprise with basic thatched shade shelters, fire pits, flushable toilets and hot showers heated by a donkey boiler.
Continuing along the loop through red mulga country, and around 2-hours from the bush camp, is the ‘Dinosaur Stampede National Monument’ at Lake Quarry.
Being smack bang in the middle of dinosaur country, Lake Quarry is home of the ‘Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum’, which houses the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils and the ancient dinosaur footprints that for many years were exposed and suffered in the harsh elements of the Outbck.
Over 3,300 dinosaur tracks mark the site of the only known dinosaur stampede on the planet and these tracks (that were the inspiration for part of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park movie) are estimated to be about 95 million years old.
If your keen on traipsing in the footsteps of these big guys that walked the Aussie lands millions of years ago then follow the dinosaur trails that will take you on a detailed excursion through the Queensland Outback towns of Longreach, Richmond and Hughenden.
The Queensland Outback is a big place with a bucket loads of history and with the towns of Longreach, Blackall, and Barcaldine (to name a few) still to visit, we tore ourselves away from this amazing outback settlement packed with a past, and headed south-east along the Landsborough Highway (also known as the Matilda Highway) towards another!
As Winton disappeared in our rear-view mirror and we lost phone signal, we were once again isolated on a long stretch of road with the next trek a quick 180-kilometres toward the ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ and Longreach.
As we headed east we were again surrounded by a distant smoke haze and dry Mitchell grass plains punctuated by stony ranges and mesas known locally as jump-up country.
We crossed a few rail tracks and were by passed many road trains loaded with hay bales or stock heading south to the saleyards, some as long as 50-metres.
Road trains are as much a part of the classic ‘Down Under’ road-trip experience as red dust, kangaroos, flat horizons and cattle that graze near the highway however, they can be quite intimidating when looming up behind or in front of you!
From one natural wonder to another, the Thomson River was a lovely surprise just off the highway and great place to stretch our legs. This magestic river is home to a number of fish species and turtles and makes for a great spot for the eager camper with plenty of walking tracks to be explored.
Finally, we arrived at Longreach, the largest town in the Queensland Outback and another unique and friendly town that was a fun place to explore…
… and like Winton, also famous as one of the founding centres for our national airline QANTAS with a 747 proudly stationed by the side of the road outside the ‘QANTAS Founders Museum’.
The Catalina Flying Boat was the very last flying boat operated by Qantas flying across the Indian Ocean between 1943 – 45 and it still holds a world record air service duration record that has never been broken. Sadly, no QANTAS Catalina’s exist today.
Longreach also celebrates its outback history and heritage with the ‘Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame’ and ‘Outback Heritage Centre’, which is an absolute icon not to be missed.
Dedicated to the lives and stories of stockmen, explorers, and aboriginals on the land, here we learned something about what it means to be a ‘true-blue Aussie’.
Several Queensland towns name their streets to a theme with Longreach’s streets named after various species of water birds and land birds… but it was obvious one family of Emus couldn’t read!
The more important streets each display a sculpture of their bird’s name sake with the main street appropriately named ‘Eagle Street’!
I find the history of these outback towns intriguing and along with this slice of Queensland having substantial dinosaur, Cobb and Co, stockman and aviation history to boast about, it didn’t surprise me that it was also Bushranger Country, with Captain Starlight’s lookout just 45-kilometres from Longreach.
With a 360-degree view this was where Starlight’s offsider watched for station hands approaching, while Captain Starlight himself rustled the cattle from the surrounding lands.
Heading on, the road from Longreach to the little town of Ilfracombe was only a 20-minute drive.
Usually these little towns are just a dot on the map, and we weren’t really expecting to see a lot at Ilfracombe, but we were soon in for a pleasant surprise!
Named after a small town in Devonshire England, Ilfracombe originated in 1891 as a transport centre for Wellshot Station, the largest sheep station in the world (at that time).
It had three hotels each with its own dance hall: a soft drink maker, a coach builder, two general stores, a billiard saloon, a dressmaker, three commission agents, a couple of butchers, a baker and a saddler.
We’ve visited lots of country pubs over the years while on our road trips around Australia and the Wellshot is another of those unique outback pubs worth stopping in at – just to see the bar made from an old wool press and the walls and ceiling adorned in murals, old stockman’s hats and $5 notes.
Transport was once the lifeblood of this little town and if you’re looking to stretch your legs, then walk the ‘Machinery Mile’… a mile-long line of old machinery that sweeps the length of the town and makes for interesting viewing, complete with information signs explaining the working life of each mechanism.
Next on our Hema path was Barcaldine, a little town steeped in political history!
The first European to pass through the Barcaldine area was Sir Thomas Mitchell who described it as ‘the finest region I have seen in Australia’.
This town wasn’t gazetted until 1886 following the construction of a railway line when it became the western terminus for the line from Rockhampton.
Today, Barcaldine is a sleepy town on the Capricorn Highway with a history based around unions and the Australian Labour Party, lots of pubs (5 hotels in total in the main street) and a hoard of interesting buildings.
It is hard to imagine this little town as central to one of the more significant events in the political life of Australia…
… but it was actually home to the shearers’ strike of 1891, which played an important role in the events, which then led to the formation of the Australian Labour Party.
It was this shearers’ strike, together with the maritime strike the preceding year that constituted the greatest labour disturbance in Australian history.
If you’ve ever learned another language, then you’ll know there’s always exceptions to the rule when it comes to spelling and grammar and the pronunciation of Barcaldine is no exception!
Pronounced ‘Bar-call-din’ but known as ‘Barky’ by the locals, this lovely little town is recognised as the ‘Garden City of Outback Queensland’ and like Longreach there is a theme to the naming of the streets… only this time they are all named after trees.
There’s a lovely ‘Capricorn Highway’ mural painted in the main street and another of the ‘Great Shearers Strike’ as you drive in… but the most significant structure in this little town is the symbol of the strike – ‘The Tree of Knowledge’ memorial – where an incredible Ghost Gum tree once grew from a seed into maturity in a street ironically named Oak Street.
Striking shearers held their meetings under this old ghost gum and it was here that they sang Henry Lawson’s great poem ‘Freedom on the Wallaby’ with its stirring final verse –
‘We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting
Of those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle.’
Sadly, the 170-year-old tree met an untimely death when it was poisoned in 2006 and after the lifeless tree was removed in 2007 it was replaced by a cement look-alike monument to celebrate its significance in Australian’s political history.
Branches and leaves portraying the original tree have been created within a timber structure that surrounds the replacement tree, but the original tree roots are still in place and are now preserved by a glass partition in the footpath!
Beside the tree is another monument in the shape of a pair of shears that reads…
‘Honour the men and women of the Labour movement who congregated in this area and, through their courage, determination and dedication to the principles, ideals and objectives of the labour movement, played a leading role in the formation of the Labour Party and further spearheaded the many reforms that resulted in the vastly improved way of life for the Australian people generally.’
Barcaldine was such an interesting little town and we were so enjoying following the mural and sculpture trail and the history if this little town that we forgot about the time and it was late in the day when we climbed back into Harry Hilux and followed our Campermate app to a free camp just 5-kilometres south of the township along the Landsborough Highway then another 9-kilometres to the west.
The sculptures in these little towns are easily visible and we even spotted this stray dog going about his business.
They are very intricate and the artists have been very creative in the use of barbed wire and scrap metal.
Just when we thought we would never find our next camp, we arrived a Lloyd Jones Weir, a dry, dusty but great camping spot set amongst trees on the banks of the pretty Alice River.
This disused dam was constructed in the 1950s to provide water for nearby veggie farms and orchards and today is a very popular spot for campers and fisher folk.
It is a large camp with flush toilets and tap water from a tank, a dump point, picnic tables and firepits… and a very busy donation camp area!
It was packed to the rafters when we arrived with only the most barren and shaded spots left.
Many campers appeared to have set up for the long stay and we soon realised why as there was plenty of evidence of many successful fishing efforts at the nearby weir!
Eventually we found a lovely site under the trees and close to the weir – an ideal spot where we could view the many kangaroos, parrots and rosellas that came to drink at the weir… and even the cheeky kookaburras made an appearance, keen to steal tit bits from the back of our vehicle!
Apparently they weren’t the only light-fingered (beaked) individuals in the area though, and just a word of warning to any unwary toilet paper thieves – leave the toilet rolls alone as there are mysterious folk out here who like to take their revenge on kleptomaniacal individuals…
… as here is what happened to one unlucky soul!
Leaving early the next morning, Jericho further on was another lovely surprise!
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, this area was occupied by the Bidjara Aboriginal people with the first Europeans arriving in 1846 when a party led by Major Thomas Mitchell who passed through the area. By the 1850s settlers had reached the area and by 1885 so too had the railway.
Apparently, Pine Hill was the original settlement, but as there was not enough water there so the township divided with some people moving on to Jericho and others to Alpha further down the road.
As we entered this town a sign proclaimed it was the only town in Australia with ‘Crystal Trumpeters’.
Like its namesake in Israel, this Jericho is also situated on the Jordon River and because of its biblical heritage links local historians have created two trumpeter structures throughout the towns.
A sign on the ‘Crystal Trumpeter’ in the main street reads: ‘Because Jericho, Queensland is built on the Jordan River south of the Lake Galilee, we decided to tell the story of the original Jericho (Joshua 6)’ – the Bible stories of the Israelites and the town of Jericho, which was said to be destroyed by trumpeters marching around the city walls.
A second trumpeter sculpture made of barbwire and metal and dressed in period costume is simply known as ‘The Trumpeter’.
Just as all the streets in Longreach and Barcaldine were named to themes, so all the streets in this little town are named after scientists and like many of the towns we had passed through on this highway, there were also a few interesting and colourful murals painted by local residents…
… with one, painted on a corrugated iron shed and portraying a sense of quirky fun that quickly attracted our attention – that of three goannas leaning over a fence having a beer!
Jericho is another attractive little town with a series of pavers in the main street (Darwin Street) that commemorates ‘the centenary of Anzac’, and the smallest operating drive-in theatre in the southern hemisphere.
This drive-in, with a space for 34 cars (and 34 seats for those who don’t want to sit in their cars) operates just once a month and it was here we met up with fellow Tassie travellers Bron and Kerry from Hobart. Welcome to our blog guys!
There’s also a great little information centre based in the old railway office and if you’re looking for somewhere to camp, Redbank Park on the banks of the Jordan River just east of Jericho is a very popular overnight stay for travellers. This park includes a barbecue area, amenities block, a playground area… and camping is permitted for a small donation to maintain its upkeep!
As we travelled towards the township of Alpha, we were surprised to see we were once again surrounded by character dressed termite mounds.
Dozens and dozens in the surrounding plains with the most noticeable closer to the edge of the road and many hidden by the long grass. We thought we had left these behind in the Northern Territory.
Soon after, the flat open grassland landscape began to change to more hilly, range country and just before Alpha we crossed the Great Dividing Range at 444 metres.
Alpha, a Greek word meaning ‘beginning’ is known as ‘The Gateway to the West’ and is mainly cattle and coal mining country.
Settlers moved to this area in the 1850s, but it wasn’t until the Alpha railway station was established that Alpha’s moment of importance came.
Named after an early property in the area, today it is an interesting mix of historic and more recent buildings, with much of its life shaped by fire and flood since its establishment back in 1881.
Alpha was another town of murals – 28 in fact depicting life of the people of the bush and the pioneering history of the district.
As most of these little towns of central Queensland seem to continue with the theme of eye-catching murals on every blank wall, here in Alpha the murals were very impressive.
Alpha is also famous for its petrified wood and an amazing artwork has been created of a sculpture known as ‘The Fossilised Forest’ representing a boulder that has been opened to reveal its treasures and mysteries. The exterior, a collection of carvings and stone attachments, intended to reflect the history of the prehistoric area in which the petrified wood formed.
Its other claim to fame is the local bakery and you can’t miss a pie from ‘Snow’s Bread Cakes and Pies’ as you pass through!
After Alpha our journey took us through the Drummond Range. It was here at the lookout that we met up with Philip and Luisa from Landsborough. Welcome to our blog guys.
This is also gemfield country where some of the largest gems in the world have been found.
‘Minerva Hills National Park’ is a spectacular park on this path and offers stunning jagged peaks, the result of volcanic activity from years past, and art work belonging to the local Karai people.
It’s a great little side trip with lots of walking trails that’s easily doable in a day trip from Emerald… but unfortunately camping is not permitted so staying nearby at Emerald is the nearest option.
Sapphires were first discovered in this area in 1875 and span over a 900 kilometre square radius taking in the gemfields and townships of Willows, Anakie, Sapphire and Rubyvale… must see gems on this highway with the ‘Sapphire Gemfields Treasure Trail’, Geo-caching discoveries and 4WD tracks not to be missed.
The trail begins its journey at the ‘Sapphire Reflections’, a 12-metre artwork adorned with glass panels and located at the Anakie crossroads.
It crosses country that tells stories, through interpretive panels and place makers, of characters, antics, history and the boom… and if you’re into the Geo- Caching craze, then there are nineteeen hidden gems to be found somewhere on these fields!
Rubyvale was originally known as Policeman’s Creek and is today an oasis in a moonscape scenery with unique local architecture of billy boulders and ironbark logs. The movie ‘Buddies’ was filmed here.
Many fortunes have been made and lost in Sapphire since mining first began in the late 1800s and further afield Anakie, declared a town in 1885, is the oldest town on the gemfields.
Last but not least is Willows Gemfields, another tiny township 35-kilometes south west of Anakie crossroads and a popular fossicking site known for its green and yellow sapphires.
Mountains and valleys now dominated the scene as we drove on, which was quite a change from the landscape we had followed over the past few weeks, and after soaking up the majestic scenery over the last few kilometres, our next stop was Emerald.
Emerald is a tranquil town located on the Nogoa River. A busy service and administrative centre for the Central Highlands Region, also known as the gateway to the gem fields.
It takes it’s name from the property of an early settler, who back in the 1860s, called his property Emerald Downs… and the first thing that greeted us as we entered the town was another of our ‘Aussie ‘Big Things’ – ‘The Big Easel’ that stands 25-metres high.
This landmark, situated in Morton Park, is the world’s biggest Van Gogh sunflower painting.
Intended as a celebration of the region’s status as a major sunflower producer it stems from a series of seven sunflower paintings painted by Vincent Van Gogh In the late 1800’s – a flower in which he saw a symbol of ‘life and hope’.
Alongside ‘The Big Easel’ 21 tiled designs depict 100 years of Emerald’s history.
Just under the railway bridge and on the edge of the beautiful Botanical Gardens we pulled in to the rest area for a loo break and a cuppa where we considered camping for the night.
These natural Botanic Gardens provide a haven for birdlife in areas dedicated to different locations of nearby rainforests and gorges but it was ‘The Federation Pillars’ that appealed to me most here – a formation of pillars depicting the Australian identity with a round shape ‘Yam Pit’ at the front that created a tranquil place for people to meet and reflect.
This rest area was another spot that appeared to be frequented by many travellers who had set up base but, after finding a brochure tucked into a pylon under the bridge advertising a cheap caravan park at $16 a night, we decided to move on to Emerald Caravan Park to catch up on few household chores.
In the heart of coal and cotton country, Emerald Tourist Park was a lovely park to set up for the night after a long day on the road and had everything we could want – clean amenities, camp kitchen, laundry (with a stack of books to swap) and a great community fire pit complete with live entertainment.
Before sunset, Lake Maraboon (just a short drive from town), made for a lovely trip to enjoy the last of the suns rays and cool off in the tranquil and beautiful lake. There’s a lovely caravan park there too!
If you have time, spend a couple of days exploring the 30 kilometre chasm of the picturesque Carnarvon Gorge with its stunning white sandstone cliffs that give shelter to tropical plants including cycads and palms and check out the Aboriginal rock art, waterfalls and rock pools that make this national park one of Queensland’s treasures.
To get there the road heads south from Emerald for 65-kilometres to Springsure, then east another 70-kilometres to Rolleston. From Rolleston it is a further 61-kilometres south to the turn-off to the gorge.
Like many of the other gorges and parks in the area, unfortunately this one was closed too due to high fire risk – so next morning we headed on along the Capricorn Highway in the direction of Comet and Blackwater.
The small hamlet of Comet was just 39-kilometres east of Emerald.
Established in association with the westward development of the railway line from Rockhampton this town was named after the ‘Comet River’, which runs close to the township and is today a small service centre for the local farming community.
The river itself was named after Ludwig Leichhardt’s observation of Haley’s Comet in the skies during his travels through the area in the late 1800’s.
Here we stopped to observe the tree trunk marked with ‘Dig’ during his exploration of the region in 1844. The word ‘Dig’ indicating to those who followed that he had buried food and journals in this spot.
Just down the road was the small town of Blackwater and it wasn’t hard to miss this little coal town as we drove in!
It is known as the coal capital of Queensland with six major open cut coal mines and one underground mine.
Coal deposits were first discovered in this area way back in 1845 by Leichhardt himself on his expedition form Morton Bay to Port Essington, now known as Darwin.
Like many of these mining towns they were specifically built for coal miners in a time before fly in, fly out became popular but what was left of this little town and the residents who chose to stay, was hidden from view – all we saw as we passed through were a few fuel stations, a motel and the impressive ‘Blackwater International Coal Centre’ with the beautiful ‘Japanese Gardens’ (a symbol of goodwill between the Duringa Shire and its siter town of Fujisawa in Japan) tucked behind.
‘The Lions Park’, home to a small rail exhibition and 37 flags fly for every nationality working on the coalfields, provided a welcome break for a cuppa before continuing on… then as the road stretched ahead coal trains became a never-ending reminder of the coal country that surrounded us – each with many kilometres of cars reaching far into the distance.
Just 26-kilometres from Blackwater, Bedford Weir is one of the Central Highlands best kept secrets and offers a great camp and fishing spot.
It is also located near the site of the notorious ‘gold escort murders’ of 1867.
Gold escorts were police officers who travelled from place to place protecting the transportation of gold or money against bushrangers – and it was here near the Mackenzie River and the Bedford Arms (a place of rest for the Cobb & Co and those heading to the gold fields of Clarmont) that two officers were murdered – the murderer being the first person to be hanged at Rockhampton Goal.
If you have never driven on a road where trivia signs are a constant to stop you from falling asleep out of boredom, then you’ve never driven in Queensland!
This state is huge, with some equally epic distances to travel… so somebody in their wisdom came up with this really brilliant trivia idea to help drivers stay alert while travelling through the outback!
Further on, and nestled in grazing country we came to the small town of Bluff, originally known as Duckworth.
The town name changed in 1877 to match the name of the railway station and in 1894 the Bluff Colliery began operating the Cambria mine – one of Central Queensland’s first coal mines. Today it is a major rail interchange for coal trains.
… and the trivia signs continued!
Then came Dingo!
The ‘Sunshine State’ is definitely not in short supply of unusual and quirkly place names and I find the stories behind these names quite intriguing… and another reason why they are worth the road trip.
Named after the wild Australian dogs that roam this area, a life-sized bronze statue of a dingo sits in the main street of this little town as a tribute to its name.
No one really knows the true story of how its name came about. Some say a railway surveyor saw a dingo on the creek bank… others say that Moses Wafer, an early pioneer, heard dingoes howling at night and named the town around his camping site… regardless it was named after a dingo!
This town sits in beef, timber and coal country and is a convenient access point for exploring the Blackdown Tablelands, a sandstone plateau rising abruptly from the surrounding plains.
Around 5-kilometres back down the highway a road turns south and follows a sealed road for some distance across flat plains to the edge of the mountains. From here it climbs a steep, windy path into the breath-taking Blackdown Tablelands National Park.
Overseen by the traditional owners, the Ghungalu Aboriginal people, these tablelands are referred to as a sandstone island, which rises 600-metres above the surrounding plains and is home to beautiful waterfalls, dramatic cliffs, great bushwalks and Aboriginal rock art.
It was late in the day when we arrived at the welcoming little town of Duaringa and pulled into the off road camping area at the rear of the Visitor Information Centre, easily identified by a huge mural depitcts the meeting of the Dawson and Mackenzie Rivers becoming the Fitzroy River.
This is a large, flat and dusty, but otherwise spacious and popular park on the edge of town where we just turned up and staked our patch of red dirt.
There are scattered trees that provide a little shade, electric bbqs – and hot showers and flushing toilets, which are always welcome when you’ve been on the road for a bit… but what we love most about these little towns is they go out of their way to make travellers feel welcome – so if you plan on stopping here, at least donate a couple of dollars at the Visitor Centre to say thank you and contribute to the upkeep of this park… and while you’re there, pick up a pocket guide and enjoy a self guided tour of the twenty historical buildings all with signage providing an insight into the town’s rich history!
There’s a distinct charm to these little Australian outback towns that you won’t find anywhere else and the fact they’re usually the only place around for many kilometres gives them a unique and wonderful atmosphere all of their own.
Duaringa is a tiny settlement of less than five hundred people, which like a few of the other towns close by, came into existence as a base camp for railway workers… and even today, where ever we wandered around town, the noise of the coal trains were a constant and sound like they go on forever!
No one seems to know how Duaringa was named. Some suggest that it may be the Aboriginal word for ‘oak’, other say it means the ‘meeting place of the swampy oaks’, and still others suggest that it means ‘to turn oneself around’.
It is the oldest township in the area dating back to the 1860’s and apart from the old Duaringa Hotel that has been preserved as a reminder of the pioneering days, there are only two other natural attractions – the unusual ‘Budgeroo’ trees that were used extensively by the local Aboriginal people… and a very persistent colony of flying foxes who have been moved from the park numerous times – but just keep coming back!
The Duaringa Stringy Bark, known to local Aborigines as ‘Budgeroo’, grows up to 10 metres tall and has bushy foliage with small white flowers that bloom in spring. They are set as a lovely forest in this park with a waterfall that draws water from the Dawson River.
These trees are of great cultural significance to the Ghungala people who used the bark to make rope, baskets and building materials.
That night, after a day spent exploring the landmarks that peppered the last of the Queensland Outback we settled into our rooftop beneath the shimmer of a million stars.
To be continued…
From here our journey will take us east along the Capricorn Highway a few kilometres (only 60-kilometres from Rockhampton) where we will turn south onto the Burnett Highway into the Banana Shire… a region brimming with history, national parks, tiny towns, gorges and lakes just begging to be discovered.
Come with us as our journey continues along the winding road peppered with incredible sweeping scenes of seasonal produce and littered with historical villages that border the Great Dividing Range.
This big, beautiful country will take a lifetime to explore in full, but these unsung regional inland gems should be marked on every wanderer’s radar as they make their way north, south, east or west.