The Outback (Gulf Country) between Karumba and the boundary with the Northern Territory has few attractions and few facilities for visitors.To the south of this, extending down to the lonely little settlement of Birdsville on the border with South Australia, is the Channel Country, which also has little to tempt visitors: hot and dusty in the dry season, hot and muggy in the rainy season, with roads often impassable by flooding. Between the Channel Country and the Gulf Country are Cloncurry and Mount Isa, two outposts of civilization in the outback.
The very small town of Birdsville has been a resting point for cattle herders, travelers, and adventurers since 1880. It is best to visit between May and October when travel is easiest.
Hughenden (pop. 1900) is the commercial center of an extensive pastoral district. It is on the Flinders Highway and the railroad from Townsville to Mount Isa. Its economy is based on wool, cattle and grain.The first white men in this area were William Landsborough and his companions, who camped here in 1862 while unsuccessfully searching for the missing Burke and Wills expedition. A large cattle station was established here only a year later.The town features the Dinosaur Display Centre, with life-size models of dinosaurs.
Porcupine Gorge National Park
2938ha.Porcupine Gorge National Park consists of an impressive gorge with rock walls up to 150m high, cut by Porcupine Creek (a perennially flowing river) through a layer of basalt into softer sedimentary rock below. A striking feature is the play of color on the walls of the gorge. There is an abundance of wildlife to be seen in the gorge, particularly during the dry season, when there is still water in the river.The pyramidal rock formations to the north of the gorge, near the entrance, are favorite spots for bush camping.
Hughenden - Mount Walker
From Mount Walker, south of Hughenden, there is a good general view of the town and surrounding area.
At the end of the Capricornia Highway, which runs along the Tropic of Capricorn, and on the railroad line from Rockhampton to Winton is the little town of Longreach (pop. 3800), the center of a huge sheep and cattle region in west central Queensland, on the fringes of the outback. The site on the Thomson River was from an early stage a favorite campsite and stopover for cattle drovers and adventurers on their way to the wild Australian west. In Australia's bicentennial year these daring heroes of the outback were commemorated by the establishment of the Stockman's Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre (exhibitions, theater, library).Opposite is the old airfield of the Queensland and Northern Territory Air Services. The airline which was to become world-famous as Qantas carried out its first experimental flights at Winton, 170km north of Longreach, but soon afterwards moved to Longreach. The first hangar of 1912 is still standing.Australia's first aircraft factory was also in Longreach, and the DH-50 biplane was assembled here in the 1920s. Regular air services began in Longreach, and light aircraft soon became the most important means of transport to the inhospitable expanses of the west and north.The Flying Surgeon Service, conveying surgeons to remote hospitals in the outback, started from Longreach in 1959.
The outback town of Winton (pop. 1200) is well-known as the birthplace of the Australian national airline, Qantas, which established its headquarters here in 1920, later moving to Longreach, 180km south. It also has associations with 'Banjo' Paterson, who wrote his famous ballad Waltzing Matilda in 1895 at the Dagworth Station (100km northwest of Winton). The song, which has almost become Australia's national anthem, is believed to be based on an actual incident at the Combo waterhole in the Dagworth area.Winton lies in an extensive sheep-farming area, and it was one of the scenes of the great sheep shearers' strike in 1891. The wool was formerly carried in ox carts to Winton for onward transport by rail; nowadays it is mainly cattle from the Channel Country and the Northern Territory that are brought to Winton by huge road trains for loading on to the railroad.The town's water supply comes from deep artesian bores at a temperature of 70°C.The town's main features of interest are the Quantilda Pioneer Museum (irregular opening hours) and the statue of a swagman near the swimming pool, commemorating the early settlers.
Bladensburg National Park
33,700ha.Bladensburg National Park, established in 1984, has remained undeveloped for tourism in order to protect its low wooded hills and grassland, with patches of denser vegetation round semi-permanent waterholes.
Cloncurry (pop. 2800) lies in the outback of northern Queensland. Copper mining was of great importance in the surrounding area from the 1860s until after the first world war. In the early 1920s Cloncurry was the destination of the first regular flights by the Queensland and Northern Territory Air Services (now Qantas). The world-famous Royal Flying Doctor Service was founded in Cloncurry by the Rev. John Flynn in 1928 and a museum displays its history.The Afghan and Chinese cemetery is a relic of copper-mining days, as are the old mine workings in the surrounding hills.The Flying Doctor Service has a very interesting museum in Cloncurry illustrating the work of the service.There is also a museum displaying other relics of the copper-mining period and some of the equipment used by Burke and Wills on their ill-fated expedition.
Croydon (pop. 220) was once an important gold and silver town and lies in the Gulf Country. Gold was discovered here in 1883, and in spite of its remote situation the settlement grew rapidly. But when the mines (the best known of which was the Golden Gate) were worked out in the 20th C. the population declined equally rapidly. Some buildings and machinery of gold-mining days have survived, and much restoration work is being done with a view to establishing an open-air museum.Another relic of the past is the rail bus which travels once a week along the isolated line (155km) between Croydon and Normanton, near the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Quilpie (pop. 760) is on the Bulloo River in the Channel Country outback and is a center for the large sheep and cattle stations in the area. It is chiefly famed for the opals found here (boulder opals).The little town can be reached by way of the asphalted Diamantina Developmental Road from Charleville or by rail, but to see the opal-mining area involves a drive in an all-terrain vehicle. In summer it can be almost intolerably hot.St Finbarr's Church has an altar, font and lectern made from opal-bearing rock.
Lawn Hill National Park
12,000ha.The central feature of the park is a gorge up to 60m deep cut through the Barkly Tableland by Lawn Hill Creek. In the bare rock faces are Aboriginal paintings. Archaeological evidence shows that the area was settled more than 30,000 years ago. The perennially flowing river has created an oasis with a rich flora and fauna (kangaroos, emus, many birds, freshwater crocodiles).There are 20km of walking trails in the park.
Simpson Desert National Park
700,000ha.Simpson Desert National Park lies in southwestern Queensland, on the borders of South Australia and the Northern Territory. It is a region of sandy hills and ranges of dunes up to 30m high extending for long distances from southeast to northwest. There is scanty vegetation of tussock grassland in which a few desert animals live. After the occasional showers of rain the ground is carpeted with flowers, attracting great flocks of birds.
Address: Corner Billabong Boulevard and Jardine Street, Birdsville, QLD 4482, Australia
Useful tips: Best time to visit: July to September; in summer it is too hot and too dry. Access via Birdsville (all-terrain vehicles only). Bush camping allowed, permit required. No facilities for visitors. Warning: For traveling in the hostile environment of the Simpson Desert, proper equipment and outback experience are essential.
Normanton (pop. 1150) was founded in 1868, was at one time an important river port through which prospectors and supplies were conveyed to the goldfields round Croydon.The old Gulflander train, running only between Normanton and Croydon, still operates, though the original steam engines gave place in 1922 to a rail bus which runs once a week.
Round Normanton are many lakes with an abundance of bird life. 70km northwest is Karumba (pop. 600), the prawn-fishing center of the Gulf region.
The little township of Boulia (pop. 300) lies on the Burke River in the Channel Country outback. Originally established in 1876 as a supply base for an explorer named Henry, it soon developed into an important stopover on the cattle-droving route.The Stone Cottage Museum (1880) is a feature of the town.
Chillagoe (pop. 220) was once an important mining town (copper, silver, lead, gold, wolfram).Chillagoe has a small museum with relics of old mining days.
Chillagoe (Mungana Caves National Park)
1876ha (in nine separate parts).The most striking features of the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park are the limestone cliffs, up to 70m high, containing stalactitic caves, some of them very large. In some of the caves are Aboriginal rock paintings. Visitors are allowed to enter a few of their caves on their own (pocket torch essential); others can only be seen on a conducted tour.