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Queensland Outback Road Trip

Mt Isa to Hughenden, Longreach, Winton, Tambo and Mitchell

On the road again! After an enjoyable exploration of the disused Mary Kathleen Uranium Mine, we headed east, stopping in the delightful country towns of Cloncurry and Julia Creek. The terrain between Mt Isa and the 260 kilometres to Julia Creek continues to provoke interest with its hills and undulations covered with a variety of native fauna before the countryside morphs into wide-spread grazing properties. With a surprisingly generous cover of grasses and lots of clumps of much needed shade trees, it had its own beauty in spite of the isolation.

After stopping for a wander down the streets of Cloncurry and Julia Creek, a cup of tea and a bite to eat, we pushed on to Richmond for the night. With the town crammed with travellers, we were directed to the “overflow” camp at the local Racecourse and enjoyed beautiful, irrigated grass to sit on and watch the spectacular sunset and sunrise in this warm, dry environment. A visit to ‘Koronosaurus Korner’ in Richmond was a must with so many pieces of dinosaur skeletons to see, including the most complete skeleton of a pliosaur ever discovered. A fascinating insight to prehistoric times.

Moving east again to Hughenden, we set up camp and headed to Porcupine Gorge, north of Hughenden. This stunningly beautiful gorge reminded me of a miniature Grand Canyon although the steep 1.1km track descending to the valley below was significantly easier for the hiker! At the bottom, an abundance of native shrubs and trees surrounded a series of crystal clear pools, ideal for swimming. It would have been a wonderful place to dwell indefinitely, however, dusk and the steep climb back to the road had us returning reluctantly to camp.

The following day we moved on to Winton where we stayed two days and could have stayed for several more! So much to see in this very pretty little town – especially as it is in the centre of the dinosaur trail. Dinner at the local pub was another experience not to be missed. Not only was the food fabulous (including several choices for Coeliacs like me), but the crowd also spilled onto the street where dozens of tables filled quickly with locals and travellers alike—reminding me very much of a busy European café. While in Winton, we spent a couple of hours enjoying the Matilda Centre and local museum, especially enjoying the history of Banjo Patterson, one of the most loved Australian poets and the author of “The Man From Snowy River”. The museum provided a fabulous window into the history and lives of the early settlers and those who followed in this harsh environment. Then (the highlight of our whole trip) a visit to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum. Set on the top of a ‘jump-up’ (escarpment) overlooking the surrounding countryside with the town of Winton in the distance, this museum covers many hectares, both indoors and out. I could ramble on for hours about the incredible experience provided – but I’m sure those of you who have an interest in the Jurassic period would have already looked it up. Meanwhile I am attaching a photo or two here to give you an idea of the authenticity and hard work that has gone into constructing the facility. Before we moved on from Winton, we spent an enjoyable half hour at the ‘Musical Fence’. This ingenious invention by a local group uses pieces of scrap metal, wire, steel drums and a myriad of other bits and pieces, to provide a number of aural experiences – and is lots of fun.

On to Longreach where we enjoyed a visit to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and a stroll down the main street. The lovely local saddler gave us a bag of old horse-shoes and my clever husband is now in the process of converting them into book stands for me! Our next stop was Ilfracombe where we had the most enjoyable and hilarious evening I have had for years. A tiny town only 27kms south of Longreach, Ilfracombe’s main street is lined with what they call ‘Machinery Mile’. For hundreds of metres, one side of the road displays every type of rural machine and vehicle that has been used for decades. It was a little (and not so little) boy’s heaven – and not exactly boring for me either! That evening, the owner of the local caravan park entertained us. A bush poet, an artist, and a genuinely delightful person, she had the forty or so campers rolling in their seats with tears streaming down faces as she reeled off poem after poem and too many jokes to count. Another unforgettable little town filled with incredible characters.

Further down the road between Ilfracombe and Isisford, we stopped to explore the ‘Stone pitching’, believed to be a legacy of the early Chinese gardeners who left the Gold Mines for independence and a better life. Thousands upon thousands of stones have been placed on their ends in waves and set into the soil. It is understood that a creek flowed through the area and the stone pitching was to slow and direct the flow over a vast area, thereby watering the acres of vegetables grown.

Another lengthy stop in Blackall was spent exploring yet another museum filled with historical – and more modern equipment, tools, and buildings – all such a wonderful example of the way the local settlers lived. Blackall sits above the centre of Australia’s vast inland water table, providing an unlimited supply of underground water. As it could be pumped out at exactly the required rate and temperature (53 degrees Celsius), the town was selected for a Wool Scour (a facility for washing the wool from the vast numbers of sheep farmed in the area). Although no longer in use due to the decline in sheep numbers, it is well maintained and a wonderful example of ingenuity.

Our next camping stop was Tambo – a tiny town 866kms west of Brisbane. During the ongoing drought of a decade or more, wool prices crashed dramatically in the early 1990’s and the community of Tambo were challenged to find a way of sustaining the economy of the town. Three local women banded together and planned, designed, and made the first Teddies using the hides and wool from their own merino sheep. From there, the Tambo Teddy was born – now taking pride of place in homes around the world and making Tambo the ‘Outback Teddy capital of Australia.’ Not to be outdone, the local publican also colours the towns evenings with his Chook Races. As a number of different coloured chickens chase a food cart around a track, bets are taken from the spectators on the prospective winner. Half of the money raised goes to the winner while the other half supports the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia – a worthy and much appreciated service in the outback.

Homeward bound, our last night was spent on the banks of the Neil Mansell Weir at Mitchell. This pretty and peaceful area with its body of water a haven for birds, was just what the doctor ordered to complete our enjoyable holiday before returning to the “real world”.

Always wonderful to get away but equally nice to be home again.

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