Places and faces. Three and a half thousand kilometres in three and a half weeks.
2021 rolls on with no real end in sight to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, as I write this, SE Queensland is in complete lockdown. There have been many terrible aspects to the last 18 months, many lows, many tragedies. But there have also been the highs, the bonding of friends and families and for Dinah and I a chance to travel and see our own country and in particular, our own great state of Queensland. We have seen more of Australia, the people, places and faces than we might otherwise have.
In early July we embarked upon a tour of Queensland’s Outback. Over the last few years, July has seen our annual pilgrimage to Rainbow Beach and time with our eldest son Christopher and his family holidaying there from Bathurst. This July we started our Outback trip by driving north to Rainbow Beach, before heading west through Gympie, Kingaroy and Dalby and on to Outback Queensland.
Somewhere over the Rainbow
I have written at length on this blog about Rainbow Beach and the amazing Coloured Sands. It is one of our favourite spots with camping right in the centre of the village and immediate access to the beach. The perfect spot for our MDC Forbes 13 off-road hybrid caravan. We stay at Rainbow Beach Holiday Village: www.rainbowbeachholidayvillage.com From here we can walk to most things, including the Rainbow Beach Lifesavers Club which has recently been renovated and extended to provide one of the best elevated beach views in Australia. The village itself has all you could want for a beach holiday with shops, supermarkets, eateries and of course, great coffee outlets. Chris and his family rent a holiday home in the village for 10 days, so we have plenty of time to spend with them. Invariably this includes fishing trips south along the pristine surf beach and past the towering Coloured Sands cliffs to Double Island Point.
This year our stay in Rainbow Beach was just 4 nights before we headed west to Dalby on the Warrego Highway. We’ve visited Dalby before and really enjoyed our stay. A great country town. This time our stay was just overnight with a drive-through site at Dalby Tourist Park: www.dalbytouristpark.com.au A special treat was an evening sausage sizzle and a good old country sing-along beside a huge open fire. A great opportunity to ease ourselves into the slower pace of Queensland country life and to chat to fellow travellers.
The following morning, we continued west on the Warrego Highway to Roma, a journey of about 270 kilometres. Towing the caravan, we try to keep our travel under 350kms a day so that our travels are not just about driving. It also allows us to arrive and set up camp by early afternoon. Roma is a major Queensland country town on the cusp of the Outback, with a population of around 7000 people. Often referred to as the Capital of the Western Downs, Roma is located in the heart of Queensland’s cattle country and boasts the largest livestock yards in the Southern Hemisphere. We were staying for three nights at the Big Rig Tourist Park: www. bigrig.net.au, aptly named as it is adjacent to the Big Rig Museum and Memorial. The memorial explores the development of the Australian oil industry, from the nation’s first discovery of petroleum in Roma in 1900 to current the day. The memorial is definitely worth a visit as it allows visitors to appreciate the importance of this industry to the growth of the region and to our nation.
Wandering the streets of country towns is a great way to appreciate the history and culture of the area and the people, and invariably to discover the unusual. Roma is definitely no exception. Nestled at one end of the main business street is an innocuous retail store simply called ACE 2. In essence, a country haberdashery, ACE 2 is chock-a-block full of thousands of clothing, fabric, craft and bric-a-brac items – a bargain hunter’s paradise and an absolute nightmare at stocktake time! The owner claims to know where every single item is. Amazingly, bus tours bring visitors from as far afield as Brisbane to shop here!
One of the most anticipated destinations of our Queensland Outback trip was Carnarvon Gorge, one of Australia’s true natural wonders. Leaving Roma, we headed due north on the Carnarvon Highway through Injune to the Carnarvon Gorge turnoff, a distance of 245 kilometres. The Gorge is 40 kilometres in from the highway and on the way you pass a memorial to the crash of an American C47 Dakota aircraft during a violent storm in 1943. The crash killed US and Australian military personnel and serves as a sobering reminder of wartime tragedy, even here in Queensland’s Outback. Carnarvon Gorge is an incredibly beautiful part of the world, with amazing scenery and reminders of our First People who lived and prospered here tens of thousands of years ago. We stayed 4 nights at the Takarakka Bush Resort: www.takarakka.com.au The Resort is a beautiful place to base yourself when exploring the Gorge. More on this wonderful location on my Carnarvon Gorge blog post. Suffice to say, Dinah and I loved our time here. But a word of advice – pre-book here, and in fact, everywhere. We were told of people who had driven 40 kilometres in to Takarakka only to find there were no sites available. And that means another 40 kilometres drive back to the highway!
The Tree of Knowledge
From Carnarvon Gorge we headed due north on the Carnarvon Highway to Emerald. Overnight in Emerald at the Emerald Tourist Park: www.emeraldtouristpark.com.au
and then west on the Capricorn Highway to Barcaldine. This little town was one of our favourites on the trip. Indeed, we stayed here on our way to Longreach and Winton and again on our return journey home. Check out Barcaldine Tourist Park: www.barcaldinetouristandcaravanpark.com.au This is a great place to stay, with spacious and well-grassed drive-through caravan sites and excellent amenities. There is also a camp oven and sing-along around the fire most evenings.
Known as the Garden City of the West, Barcaldine is a fascinating town to explore with a huge history. The main street is a reflection of Australia’s golden age when, as the saying goes, we rode on the sheep’s back. Barcaldine is the birthplace of the Australian Labor movement and the infamous Shearers’ Strike of 1891 when 3000 striking shearers marched under the Eureka Flag to put forward their protests against poor working conditions and low wages below the boughs of the Tree of Knowledge. Their mantra: “Freedom Without Dishonour”. The main street is a living museum and a monument to the resilience of our Outback pioneers, as well as to the arts and culture of community members with the spectacular Tree of Knowledge Memorial, murals, musical instruments, beautiful gardens and the famous 1917 windmill. The Visitor’s Centre is also definitely worth a visit. Housed in a beautifully restored 1800s two-storey building, the Centre displays some really interesting artifacts from the local area.
From the Tree of Knowledge to very few trees
As we headed further and further west, the trees became sparce, the road flat and the hordes of caravans heading back east, unreal. We passed over 150 caravans on that 108 kilometre strip of road between Barcaldine and Longreach, many covered in red dirt, returning from the Big Red Bash event at Birdsville. Barcaldine to Longreach is a relatively short drive, allowing us to arrive at our destination by mid-morning. About 25 kilometres this side of Longreach on the Landsborough Highway is the small village of Ilfracombe, perfect for a pit-stop and coffee before tackling the ‘big smoke’ of Longreach. The centre-piece of the town is the Wellshot Hotel, a classic Queensland outback pub. Now the only pub in town, it was one of a number of hotels serving the thriving community, thanks to a prosperous sheep and shearing industry. A coffee to take-away and a walk along the short main street to inspect the amazing array of ancient motor vehicles and agricultural implements on display, then back on the road and west to the home of QANTAS, Longreach.
You can see it from kilometres away, the distinctive red tail and emblazoned flying kangaroo logo. Welcome to Longreach, the unofficial Capital of Outback Queensland. A town of around 3000 residents, Longreach is famous for many things, not the least of which is the QANTAS Founders Museum and The Stockman’s Hall of Fame. But first things first. Time to check into our accommodation. We opted to stay for 2 nights at the Longreach Tourist Park: www.longreachtouristpark.com.au which is just off the Landsborough Highway as you approach Longreach. Red dirt sites, but with easy access and very good amenities. Again, it is imperative to book ahead. The line of caravans waiting to check in stretched all the way up the street and there were no casual vacancies. From here it is a short drive to the centre of town. Traditional wide country town streets make parking easy, and the town is really interesting to walk around with a mix of old and new shops and a number of excellent bakeries. Great coffee has made its way out west!
In the afternoon, we visited the QANTAS Founders’ Museum. Standing alongside the QANTAS Jumbo under the massive protective canopy reminded me of our first trip to London in 1972 on a Jumbo Jet and our awe at the sheer size of this aeroplane. In those days Jumbos couldn’t land in Brisbane, so we flew to Singapore on a Boeing 707 and then boarded the Jumbo on the runway by climbing up (and up) the stairs. We couldn’t believe its size then, and we couldn’t believe it’s size again now. Is this the most awe-inspiring aircraft ever? The Founders’ Museum is excellent, with great displays of aircraft and air travel memorabilia and well as a detailed history of the airline. Such is the volume of visitors at this time of year, it is imperative to pre-book visits to museums and attractions such as these in advance. Check out: www.qfom.com.au
The next day we visited the Stockman’s Hall of Fame. Yes, we had pre-booked. What an excellent experience! Although located in Longreach, the Hall recognises bush people from all over Australia, bringing to life the rugged landscape of the Outback with incredible stories of the everyday people who lived and worked the stock routes. The displays are all interactive and are brilliant, with the various halls recounting the myriad facets of the Australian Outback experience. Entry for adults is $68 and is well worth it for an unforgettable Aussie experience. Check out: www.stockmanshalloffame.com.au
The jewel of the Outback
Our final destination and the furthest west we were travelling was Winton, famous for red dirt, brightly coloured opals and prehistoric dinosaurs. Both Dinah and I were really looking forward to visiting this iconic Queensland Outback town. And we were not to be disappointed. It’s a long, flat, dry 180 kilometre drive due west from Longreach, so we were happy to reach our destination and check in at the Tattersalls Hotel and Caravan Park: www.experiencewinton.com.au This in excellent place to set up camp. Most sites are grassy and large, and the amenities are good. The caravan park is just across the road from the famous Tattersalls Hotel, which can be dangerous thing on a hot Winton day. In the 4 days we were in Winton, we got to know Matt behind the bar. He’d see us crossing the road from the caravan park and two ice-cold beers would be waiting for us on the bar.
Winton is a small town with so much to see and do that I cannot possibly do it justice in this one blog post. So, see my separate post on Winton.
Three weeks on the road and all too soon it was time to start our journey home, retracing our steps from Winton through Longreach to Barcaldine, staying once again at the Barcaldine Tourist and Caravan Park. Overnight here then south on the Landsborough Highway through Blackall, Tambo to Augathella. Augathella is yet another fascinating small town with a remarkable past, most notably for its colourful history of bushrangers, bullockies and bullock teams who camped along the Warrego River. The bushrangers have since been rounded up but today people still camp along the Warrego River, however the bullock trains of old have been replaced with modern caravans and motorhomes. Walking along the main street you can view the amazing murals created by locals to showcase their love of the region. From the great sheep stations of the past to the 1950s movie ‘Smiley’ about a local Augathella boy called Didy ‘Smiley’ Creevey. Interestingly, Smiley was played by child actor Colin Peterson. I went to school with Colin at Humpybong State School in Redcliffe. Colin went on the play drums with the Bee Gees in England in the 1960s. Didy’s son still lives in Augathella.
The last remaining hotel in town, the Ellengowan Hotel, offers powered caravan sites at the rear of the hotel for $25 a night, which includes a $10 voucher to be spent at the hotel. You can’t beat that for value. And we couldn’t beat the pub food either. We had an excellent seafood basket for dinner that night for just $25 per person.
A brisk 1 degree C and an early start from Augathella on our journey south to Mitchell. We’ve stayed in Mitchell before and really love this little town. As in the past, we were staying at the Major Mitchell Caravan Park, an easy walk into town. This is a great park with excellent sites and amenities. Being a Saturday, our timing meant that by the time we had set up our caravan and walked into town, most shops were shut. Half-day Saturday trading is the norm for country retailers. However, our favourite pub in Mitchell, the Hotel Richards offered a welcoming open door and a comfy bar stool. A cold beer and a chat with locals. On the wall, the most amazing outback cartoons by famed artist Bill Martin. That evening at the park we enjoyed a camp oven stew followed by apple strudel crumble and cream around a blazing campfire. Just $16 per person. One has to ask does it get any better than this?
The last leg
A chilly start again in the morning as we headed for Dalby and our final overnight stop before home. Driving east, we passed through the small villages of Amby and Muckadilla then Roma. A quick coffee and back on the road to Dinah’s home-town of Chinchilla where we stopped for lunch. We arrived in Dalby at the Dalby Tourist Park mid-afternoon. As this was our last night on the road, we decided to celebrate (or commiserate) with dinner at the nearby Criterion Hotel, enjoying the roast of the day and a good red wine. Up for an early start and the coldest morning so far. Well below zero made it uncomfortable packing up. The last 300 kilometres home via Toowoomba is pretty much all four lane highway, so an easy drive. We arrived home on the Sunshine Coast in the early afternoon.
Three and a half thousand kilometres in three and a half weeks. We visited some amazing places, saw some amazing things, shared some amazing experiences and met some amazing people. Life without overseas travel is pretty good if you are fortunate enough to live in Queensland!
Main Picture: Australian Stockman: Photography by Peter Evans, Stockman’s Hall of Fame, Winton
- Double Island Point and the start of our Outback odyssey
- Sing-a-long around the fire in Dalby
- Its official – we are now in Outback Queensland
- The famous bottle trees of Roma
- The Big Rig memorial in Roma to oil exploration in the Outback
- The other ‘big rig’ – our Jeep and MDC caravan
- ACE 2 haberdashery in Roma – a stocktake nightmare
- Memorial to the American C47 Dakota aircraft crash near Carnarvon Gorge
- Treking Carnarvon Gorge
- Great camping at Takarakka Bush Retreat at Carnarvon Gorge
- This little village of Jericho is where Dinah’s Grandma was born
- The famous Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine
- Picking up on the local knowledge in Barcaldine
- The impressive QANTAS Founders’ Museum in Longreach
- The Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach
- The great RM Williams in the Hall of Fame
- Bush poetry in the Stockman’s Hall of Fame
- Tattersall’s Hotel, Winton
- The Royal open-air cinema in Winton
- Dinah and the dinosaurs at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs exhibit near Winton
- On the march
- 102 million years in the making
- A tribute to the Australian larrikan boy Smiley in Augathella
- Outback art on the wall of the Hotel Richards in Mitchell
- Dalby and the dawn of our last day on the road – then home