We have come to the end of our stay at Birdsville and left with the satisfaction of having once again visited an iconic place, and at least witnessed a few days in the leadup to an iconic event in Australia’s history.
For most Australians, Birdsville will only ever be a geographic point on a map, but whether you are an experienced adventurer or merely just a dreamer with a case of wanderlust, this isolated frontier town situated between the Simpson Desert, the Sturt’s Stony Desert to the south, and rich Channel Country to the north, should be a ‘must visit’ on every Aussie travellers bucket list.
After waving our friends farewell, we left Birdsville with our first stop not far down the road.
There are not many trees in this stark, tree-less stony landscape in far western Queensland, but there is an unexpected stand of trees standing boldly on the gibber plain, just 12-kilometres out of town.
Commonly known as the ‘Birdsville Wattle’ these are not just any trees, but the ancient rare and almost extinct Waddi Waddi (Acacia peuce) trees, considered to be 500-1000 years old.
There are only three such stands of these trees remaining in Australia, all growing on the edge of the Simpson Desert, and having already visited a stand near Old Andado Homestead on the Binns Track in the Northern Territory, we had only one more patch to see – and they were growing just up the road at Boalia.
At no more than three to four metres tall they are thought to be remnants of the last ice age, but with their existence in jeopardy and in an attempt to ensure their survival, horticulturists have apparently collected, and successfully germinated up to 40 seedlings in a greenhouse near Longreach with the hope of replanting them around Boalia!
They grow at a very slow rate of 15-centimetres a year – but in their favour their wood is considered to be Australia’s most dense, so dense it is said to be near on impossible to cut with an axe – or burn! Although in saying that, the Aboriginal people managed to carved the wood to make their waddies and tools – and use it for their fires.
The next section of road between Birdsville and Bedourie (186-kilometres) traverses the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert and the western edge of the vast Channel Country, and as the trees disappeared in our rear view mirror and the road stretched ahead of us, we couldn’t help but wonder whose back yard we would be driving through!
Known as the ‘Bilby Way’, this section of road is named from the rare and endangered ‘bilby’, otherwise known as the rabbit-eared bandicoot.
This nocturnal marsupial, which is about the size of a rabbit, has a long pointed nose, silky blue grey fur, a black and white crested tail and long, almost transparent ears was once a common sight around these parts and a much-enjoyed delicacy of local Aboriginals but sadly, due to the introduction of predators such as cats and foxes, the bilby’s numbers have deceased considerably… and now organisations across the south west Queensland are working desperately to save this beautiful, almost extinct creature.
Read all about the Bilby country, the ‘Charleville Bilby Centre’, and our last trip through the heart of ‘mulga country’ from Birdsville to the Gold Coast here… https://tassiesnowbirds.com/2019/03/26/coming-soon-from-the-gold-coast-to-sydney/
This was Diamatena Country – a shire that covers just under 100,000 sq. kilometres, which is roughly twice the size of our home state of Tassie.
It has a road network of 1636-kilometres of which 265-kilometres are sealed, and a population of around 320 across the two towns of Bedourie and Birdsville (give or take a few), plus all the stations, which according to the map in the Birdsville Visitor Information Centre , there were only fourteen of in the entire Diamantina Shire… big ones I might add!
As we continued the ever-changing scenery was never boring with extensive gibber plains, so named after the shiny pebbles or gibbers that cover the surface… and what we thought were small mountain ranges in the distance that turned out to be more sand dunes – just one after the other and stretching for as far as the eye could see.
For the entire trip to Boudorie, the road alternated between a few kilometres of bitumen followed by long sections of sand and gravel… and luckily the gravel sections were in good condition – probably because it had been graded ready for the race week traffic!
Sometimes when you are driving the outback you come across some odd additions to the landscape that bring a smile to your face… and just down the road from the Waddi Waddi trees we came by a tree of another kind… or should I say a sign.
In a barren gibber desert where there is nothing but plains and horizon, we happened upon a lonely tree adorned with dozens of shoes – ‘a shoe tree’… and somewhere in amongst all the shoes, boots, tatty old sandals, heels and thongs, was a sign that read ‘Private Road’…
… and then a few kilometres further on, still on the flat gibber plain… a garden setting complete with a table and 2 seats.
They say things come in threes and on a stretch further down the road was a collection of household items (hopefully not discarded by someone just trying be rid of their rubbish!)… a washing machine, an air conditioner, an old wood fired stove that must have weighed a ton, a printer and lots of other stuff – including a lawn mower that would certainly not get much use out out this way.
Along with the Aussie humour there are some sad stories too, and further on we came across ‘Mooney’s Grave’… and the very strange and sad story of a local ringer’s early demise!
William Mooney’s job was to patrol the dingo fence that skirts the Simpson Desert between the South Australian border and the Toko Range.
After one of his recreational sprees at the Birdsville Hotel in 1895 he left Birdsville with two cases of whisky on his packhorse – six weeks later his body was found about 50-metres from the track, surrounded by empty bottles.
Continuing, the next point of interest was ‘Carcoory Ruins’ which was one of the first properties Sir Sidney Kidman purchased in 1899 and features in Jill Bowen’s book ‘Kidman, The Forgotten King’.
Information signs detailed the hardships faced by those living off this land in years gone by and today all that is left are the walls of the early four room sandstone homestead, which appeared remarkably solid for its age… that is with the exception of the travelling tourists who had carved their names and other things into the walls of sandstone and concrete.
A short distance away a bore operated with water steaming out of the ground at near boiling point then flowing across the sand via a cooling pond.
The surrounding landscape was quite surreal actually, and as we sat and sipped our cuppa it appeared one of the most isolated and arid places on earth where the only company was a despondent crow squawking from a wall of the homestead, and the never-ending wind driving in off the desert sand dunes and sweeping across south west Queensland.
It had been blowing hard for days blanketing everything in its path with a fine film of sandy grit… but I guess there was one consolation, at least it kept the bush flies at bay!
Here on this dry, barren gibber of the Outback the distance between neighbours is so vast and the lands so harsh and desolate it makes you wonder how anyone can make a living off it, let alone live on it!
We had only travelled 81-kilometres from Birdsville, but it had taken us all morning to reach this point. We had learned very early in our travels that a good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving to the next destination at any fixed time – in fact, we didn’t even have a next destination planned at this point!
As the road stretched ahead we passed a convoy of police cars heading to Birdsville for Race Day. It was the first traffic we had passed all day, and then after a stint of caravans and campers in their numbers, we were again alone on a road that seemed to stretch forever into the distance!
Further on we turned off the highway onto a track that would take us along a 60-kilometre detour, eventually exiting back out on the Bedourie/Birdsville road near Kings Creek Crossing.
This diversion travelled over many sand dunes making for an interesting by-pass and took us via Lake Machattie affording us the occasional views and glimpses of the almost dry lake.
When full Lake Machattie is the largest pelican breeding area in Australia and would usually provide water for many hundreds of head of stock. It is one of the many lakes throughout the Queensland Channel Country – but only one of a few that can be easily seen!
Back out on the main road we passed Glengyle Station.
Glengyle Station was established in 1876 by Duncan Macgregor one of the pioneers to the region. He held on to the property for the next 20 years (he also owned nearby Cacoory Station) until it was purchased by Kidman in 1903.
Glengyle is also home to the heritage listed ‘Kidman’s Tree of Knowledge’, an important piece of history in the Kidman family as it was here under this large Coolibah tree that Sir Sidney Kidman camped during his first trip through this part of the country.
In later years this point of interest became the rendezvous site for the first settlers in the area.
Several graves can be found on the other side of the road. These graves are many years old and those of the unfortunate stockman who drowned as they tried but failed to cross the raging floods waters of Eyre Creek.
The dry, barren lands of the first section of this road had now given way to some evidence of the rains earlier in the month and we were now privy to a few swollen rivers and wetlands… and it wasn’t hard to imagine these mighty inland rivers scattered across the land into interwoven channels, waterholes, wetlands, and floodplains tens of kilometres wide when the land is in full flood.
The Cuttaburra Crossing wetlands were next on our journey where we were afforded a view of creek from the side of the road at the roadside rest.
This is a permanent waterhole and a renowned wetland on the Eyre Creek, between Lake Koolivoo and Lake Machattie.
Next, we pulled into the memorial of Will Hutchinson. Twenty-year-old Will was a drover to Kidman at the time he died and was originally recognised as the founder of Coober Pedy when he discovered opal in the Stuarts Range Opal Field in South Australia.
At the time of his demise he was droving cattle from Clifton Hills Station in South Australia to Glengyle and even though a strong swimmer, he drowned while swimming Eyre Creek – and to this day the cause of his mysterious death is unknown. His body was recovered from the creek three days later and buried nearby.
Kings Creek Crossing was just a bit along the road.
Named after John King the sole survivor of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition this spot was a favourite overnight stop for Afghan cameleers travelling the track to Birdsville, mostly because of the natural stone causeway, which was their crossing point.
The campsite is still used by weary travellers today and the grave of an Afghan who tragically died in the area can be found between the junction of the Windorah Road and the waterhole where he was buried facing Mecca.
The wind was still blowing a gale and we had been collecting dust for many days now and by late morning when we arrived at the tiny outback outpost of Bedourie, it was still quite brutal.
Bedourie, meaning ‘dust storm’ certainly lived up to its name and is appropriately home to the ‘Dust Storm Sculpture’, which is a must see!
Standing in Wangkamardia Country this sculpture represents the spinifex, dust storm and whirly winds, which the traditional people believe is the way their spirits travel.
Perched on a sand dune and surrounded by Eyre Creek this little dust storm town has a population of around 120 people.
During the 1880s it was a major watering and rest stop for drovers moving cattle from the Northern Territory to north west Queensland to the customs collection point in Birdsville, 200-kilometres south. Today it is the administrative centre for the huge Diamantina Shire.
Also known as the ‘Oasis in the Desert’ the native gardens, shrubs and trees were a welcome change from the barren land we had just travelled and an invitation to break our journey and stop for lunch.
Our first stop was the Visitor Information Centre where the delightfully bubbly and enthusiastic lady was a fountain of information from weather forecast to park closures, fires dangers and road conditions.
There are a few National Parks in the surrounding area where we were thinking of camping and exploring on our way to Winton – namely the Diamantina and Lochern National Park and Elizabeth Springs and Lark Quarry Regional Parks, but all were closed due to the strong winds and the catastrophic fire rating.
Here we collected brochures and a town map, perused the local history, payed a small deposit for the entry key to the hot artesian spa, then after picnicing nearby we laced up our walking boots and set off along the 2.6-kilometre heritage walk to explore the little town.
The stroll took us past the Bedourie School, which was not that old having only opened in 1967. Prior to this, school lessons were held in the Shire Hall. We passed the Bedourie Clinic, where the Flying Doctor visits fortnightly and from there the path led to the ‘library of forgotten books’ where every headstone told a story!
These old cemeteries are where we always come to learn the stories of early residents, with the inscriptions not only recording people’s lives but also giving a glimpse into the town’s history… and it’s fair to say this ‘library of headstones’ brings together the rich, the poor, the bad, the good, the young, the old and the humble working man… where everyone is equal!
The major industries in the area are beef production and mining but it also relies heavily on tourism… with the most popular attraction, the ‘Artesian Spa and Aquatic Centre’ where we eased our tired muscles in the beautiful clear artesian water pumped out of the ground at a temperature of 39 degrees and cooled to 34 degrees. This provided a very hot refreshing soak before a cool off in the 25-metre swimming pool!
The ‘Royal Hotel’ established in the 1800s cannot be missed as you drive into town and is still operating with little change in appearance except for the replacing of the thatched roof with iron.
This hotel was established in 1886 with its ownership linked to Sir Sidney Kidman.
It has remained licensed ever since as has the authentic outback pub experience with many reminders of yesteryear still evident… and it is still a popular meeting place for locals and travellers of the Outback.
Another of Bedourie’s most historical sites is the ‘Mud Hut’ .
This simple two room building made of earth walls and floors and a bush timber roof framing – now with corrugated iron sheets, is believed to be one of the first buildings constructed in Bedourie after the hotel, and was built for Mrs Mary Dolan when the hotel and store were destroyed in a storm.
The date of the construction is not actually known, however the history of the Royal Hotel and the ‘Mud Hut’ are closely linked.
Bedourie is also famous for the ‘Bedourie Camp Oven’, a small camp oven first produced under a tree by a local tinsmith in 1920. This oven went on to replace the cast iron ovens that couldn’t cope with the harsh Australian conditions.
RM Williams went on to sell a refined version of this oven made of spun steel with a tight fitting lid in 1945, and in 2001 the Australian government recognised the significant contribution to Outback life made by this oven and noted it as ‘Uniquely Australian’… and even named a street in the ACT after it!
You may think Birdsville is the only town out this way where thousands of people flock for the very popular ‘Birdsville Races’ and the ‘Big Red Festival’ but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Each year on the second weekend of September the Bedourie racecourse comes alive with hundreds upon hundreds of people converging on this little town and ‘dressing the Desert Pink’ to raise money for Breast Cancer research.
These races makes up part of the ‘Simpson Desert Racing Carnival’ with 3 weekends over August and September becoming a busy time for the Diamantina Shire.
The ‘Simpson Desert Racing Carnival’ takes place in three iconic outback locations in the shire, combining the Betoota, Birdsville and Bedourie Races for the ultimate outback racing experience.
It starts in ‘Australia’s smallest town’ when the ghost town of Betoota comes alive on the last weekend of August.
Affectionately known as ‘the outback’s friendliest races’ these races are also known as the ‘warm up party’ before Birdsville and although they tend to attract a smaller crowd than the others, it is said it is an event not to be missed.
In between the Betoota and Birdsville race days, if you don’t mind a bit of driving, the ‘Windorah International Yabbie Races’ are held in the main street of Windorah on the Wednesday evening.
Here yabbies are auctioned off and raced in front of a crowd of hundreds of travellers and locals… and there’s live music and plenty of food to be had before heading to Birdsville!
Then comes the ‘Birdsville Races’, another epic weekend, as are the ‘Bedourie Races, the final event of the carnival series, which also includes the ‘Bedourie Ute and Travellers’ Muster’ on the Saturday morning. This provides a good excuse for motor enthusiasts from around the country to rev up early and pay homage to Australia’s greatest workhorse… the good old’ Aussie ute!
If you can’t make it to the horse races then plan a trip around the ‘Outback Queensland Camel Festival’ featuring three big camel races – Bedourie (2nd weekend in July – 2 day event), Boulia (3rd weekend in July – 3 day event) and Winton (last weekend in July – 1 day event).
Camel racing is a serious international sport in some countries and its origins can be traced back to the early Islamic period in the 7th century.
In Australia, they have had quite a rich history since the late 19th century however, it wasn’t until 1990 that the sport gained real exposure in Australia. The Boulia Camel Race is the second richest professional camel race in the country and promotes the longest running camel race in Australia.
We were now halfway between Birdsville and Boulia, which was just 191-kilometres and 2-hours away… and with the road ahead sealed, we were looking forward to some smooth travelling.
Coolabah woodlands, dry sand plains, vast dunes and spinifex grasses now surrounded us… all of which have adapted to infrequent rains and the scorching heat and I couldn’t help but remember the poem written by Dorothea Mackeller, which referred to… ‘a land of droughts and flooding rains!
It was getting late in the day as we made our way north and we were on the lookout for somewhere to spend the night. For us this would usually be a disused gravel pit, a level gap in the bush or in a secluded spot at the side of the road… but in this case we only had the gibber plains to choose from!
Our rule of thumb was to find a spot by 4pm with camp set up before dark, arrange the table and chairs and have dinner cooking… then sit back and enjoy the last light with a nice glass of red before the sun dropped below horizon.
We were around 110-kilometres south of Boulia when we turned off and wound our way up a steep mesa towards ‘Vaughan Johnson Lookout’.
This lookout is located 3-kilometres from the main road via a very steep road at the highest point on the cusp of the Diamantina Shire and overlooks the Channel country and the catchment of the Georgina River – and was certainly a spectacular spot to set up camp, enjoy a magnificent sunset and spend the night. But be warned… it is only suitable for 4WDs or small rigs.
Located on the property of Marion Downs this lookout sits at the border between the Diamantina and Boulia Shires.
Named after politician, Vaughan Johnson MP, who secured the funding to establish it, there’s picnic shelter facilities, some great camp spots and interpretation panels providing some interesting facts on the Diamantina Shire and early pastoralism and transportation…
… and it is home of a ‘Loo with a View’!
It’s an unsual, and pretty amazing opportunity to be able to sit on the loo and admire the view over the Channel Country from the dunny window!
From the lookout this 180-degree view over the horizon monopolised our thoughts with its wide blue skies contrasting against the rich red earth of a timeless land and was a sight that will be forever etched in our memory!
That night we parked our car on the very edge of the lookout where we could savour a beautiful view from the window of our rooftop tent and immersed ourselves in the silence and serenity of yet another spectacular free camp.
We were now on the edge of ‘where the desert meets the Channel Country’ and the ‘Land of the Min Min Lights’.
A amazing carpet of wildflowers surrounded us as we continued the next morning, an eagle on the side of the road was a rare sight… but not the cattle, this is cattle country and with no fences we were constantly on the watch for the odd stray.
After stopping for a photo opportunity at the Tropic of Capricorn cairn we waved the sub tropics goodbye in the rear vision mirror and headed for Boulia.
Our Wi-Fi pinged into existence, something we never seemed to miss – but a necessity unfortunately on these outback roads and sign civilization wasn’t very far away!
It is believed the name Boulia is derived from a waterhole in the Burke River named Bulla Bulla.
This area is steeped in rich history, which evolved a 100 million years ago when it was part of an inland sea and home to a mass of marine reptiles.
It was the meeting grounds and a source of permanent water to the many traditional owner groups of the Pitta Pitta, Kalkadoon, Yulluna, Yalarrnga, Bularnu, Waluwarra, Wangkayuju and the Wangkamahdla people.
Burke and Wills passed this way on their journey to the gulf with the Burke and Wills rivers named after them… and Afghan camel traders travelled through the shire.
Boulia’s origins date back to 1876 when the first idea of a township was nurtured by a storekeeper by the name of James Edward Jones, but it wasn’t until 1879 that 1280-acres of land was gazetted and set aside for the development of the town.
The first home was built in 1888 and from then on, the township continued to grow.
The original ‘Stonehouse Cottage’ built by James Jones sits proudly at the front of the Heritage Complex.
This town once boasted three hotels, the Bank of NSW, two grocery stores and clothing store plus TAA (Trans Australian Airlines) used to land their DC3 at the airport en-route to Brisbane.
At the Heritage Complex there is a great marine fossil display, which gives a firsthand insight into the prehistoric predators of the deep.
Stop a while and enjoy the ‘Min Min Encounter’, a unique 45-minute theatrical experience incorporating animatronics, fibre optics and loads of other high-tech wizardry, which give credence to the art of the bush yarn… all based on the famed Min Min Light phenomenon this town is famous for!
On the edge of town, a windmill turns slowly and is said to be one of the first windmills in Boulia that pumped the town’s water supply. This unique structure is thirty feet tall.
Alongside is an impressive water tank with a colourful mural depicting the amazing landscape of the Boulia Shire painted on it… and an old table top wagon, a common sight in the Boulia Shire at the turn of the century and used for carting wool and other goods along the old Cobb & Co route, sits on the dry earth nearby.
In the middle of the main street the ‘Red Stump’ is the towns answer to the ‘Black Stump’ and a sign that we were as far as we could go into the Queensland Outback…
… and while you’re in town check out the shops and great info centre – come supermarket, café and gift shop where we were lucky enough to buy new thongs after ours were eaten by a fox on the Simpson Desert.
The last known ‘Corroboree Tree’ of the traditional Pitta Pitta people was in easy walking distance of the main street…
… and we found the third stand, a small cluster of Waddi Waddi trees, referred to in the dairies of Burke and Wills in the early 1860s, just 20-kilometres south on the road to Bedourie with a larger cluster on Coorabulka Road. They reminded us of ‘she oaks’ in appearance.
The traditional owners of the land believe the Waddi Waddi trees are the spirits of their ancestors and if you see one standing in isolation it is said to be a lost spirit.
The Police Barracks, 25-kilometres north on Selwyn Road is a bit of a drive but there is a picnic area close by to stop for a cuppa.
Between 1874 and 1884, Sub Inspector Ernest Egglington was stationed at this waterhole with a handful of native mounted police. All that remains at the site today are a few mounds of stone rubble.
We stopped and had lunch at the Burke River on the eastern side of the bridge that crosses into town then leaving Boulia, we pointed Harry in the direction of Winton and continued long the Kennedy Development Road, otherwise known as the ‘Cobb and Co Trail’, the ‘Min Min Byway’ or ‘The Outback Way’.
‘The Outback Way’ is known as ‘Australia’s Longest Shortcut’ and takes you on a journey through the heart of Australia from Winton to Laverton. It is also the world’s longest ‘Geocaching’ treasure hunt trail!
Geocaching is a treasure hunt with a difference and is loads of fun. It requires a mobile phone to download the app and access the GPS then by following longitude and latitude (off-line), the hunt is on for treasure – usually in a small canister box that contains a few trinkets and a notebook, although some only have a notebook to record your details!
They can be hiding in the strangest of places – road signs, under rocks, in trees – and the idea is to take out the trinket, put another in its place (I leave a card from a pack of Australian cards that details an Aussie sight), then sign the notebook and keep the trinket moving. Some have been known to make it to the other side of the world, thanks to overseas travellers!
We had covered part of the ‘The Outback Way’ on our last trip from Laverton to Alice Springs crossing the ‘Great Central Highway’ but not fully accomplishing it. The stretch to Winton, we would do over the next day or two, but the section along the Plenty Highway we still had to complete!
Read all about all about our adventures across ‘The Great Central Road’ here… https://tassiesnowbirds.com/2018/12/18/crossing-the-iconic-great-central-road/
As we continued our path would take us along the Kennedy Development Road and through more Channel Country with the next section of road the most direct route into the Diamantina National Park… but because of the high winds and fires the surrounding National Parks were closed – so there would be no detours for us today.
Our first stop after leaving Boulia was the ruins of the ‘Hamilton Hotel’. Hotel markers were a common sight along this road and first appeared like headstones lining the verge. They mark the spot of the many pubs that once stood on the Cobb and Co route.
In the Cobb and Co days this stretch of road between Boulia and Winton apparently had a number of hotels, including the 20-Mile, 40-Mile. Britcher’s Creek, Middleton’s, Muckunda, Min Min and Hamilton’s.
Hamilton was stop number 7 of the 9 pillars and served as a changing station where the horses and the travellers could rest and enjoy some refreshments after their long, arduous journey.
The Hamilton Hotel is now in ruins and apparently burnt down around 1918. All that remains is an open fireplace, an old windmill where water pumped straight from the Artesian Basin, a couple of water tanks and a small and uninviting picnic – camp area. The amenities – which included flushing toilets and cold showers, and the covered picnic area had all been vandalised and a large fence had been erected around the historical site implying it was often frequented by unwelcome guests.
Continuing we passed a few station signs and the odd dead beast lying along the verge.
We crossed over causeways with the only indication they were creek beds, the signs. Now they were only dry, sandy beds but it was obvious this area was prone to flooding by the many depth markers and floodway signs that appeared at regular intervals along the highway.
Kilometre after kilometre of rivers and creek beds snake their way through this sun-baked Channel Country.
There is no better country in which to reside than Australia, but I guess I am a bit biased having only travelled my homeland… but gazing out the window over the scorched, silent, lonely, desert plains that stretched into the horizons shimmering haze again, I can only image what a 19-year-old Dorothea McKellar (1885-1968) must have felt all those years ago in faraway England.
Constantly pining for her country, her love for her Aussie homeland was what inspired her to write one of my favourite, and Australia’s most famous poems...
My Country – by Dorothea Mackeller
The love of field and coppice
Of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance,
Brown streams and soft, dim skies
I know, but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!
The stark white ring-barked forests,
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon,
Green tangle of the brushes
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops,
And ferns the warm dark soil.
Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When, sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady soaking rain.
Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the rainbow gold,
For flood and fire and famine
She pays us back threefold.
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze …
An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand
though Earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.
Around 30-kilometres from Boulia we turned off the main road and weaved our way through the cattle to the ‘Min Min Hotel’ site near Min Min Creek.
This is the site of the first recorded sightings of the mysterious ball of light called the ‘Min Min Light’ that was first seen in the early 1890s.
There wasn’t a lot to see out here only lots and lots of broken bottles, a mass of tri-star thorns, which pierced our thongs, two graves – one of Mary Lilley who was related to the original owner the another an unknown grave at the rear of the site…
… and further afield, a dry lagoon where flocks of shy, majestic, brolgas stood and cattle wandered – all providing a great photo opportunity.
This hotel, well known as being a watering hole for murders and unsavoury characters, was also destroyed by fire in the early 1900s.
The ‘Min Min Light’ was first sighted here by a local lad while out fixing a bore with a group of men.
He and another work mate had decided to walk out to the road to wait for the mail truck and it was then the light first appeared in the distance.
The two waited and waited, thinking it was the mail truck but when the strange light didn’t get any closer and eventually disappeared… and when there was no sign of the mail truck, they headed back to camp.
It was while walking back that the mysterious light re appeared again, only this time it danced and played around them!
During his lifetime the young boy by the name of Gordon went on to have many encounters with this glowing ball of light, which he described as about the size of a football!
The light still appears today and although no one knows its origin, there are many myths and bush yarns about it.
Scientist are baffled to explain this phenomenon, the local Pitta Pitta people claim it has been around for many, many years… but legend has it, it is the spirits of the murderers and unsavoury people that frequented the hotel.
With no rhyme or reason as to when, where or how long this light will perform, it is said it will pick its own time to appear and who to appear to.
You don’t go looking for this Min Min… the Min Min comes looking for you!
Soon the dry, flat pastures of the Channel Country started to disappear leaving only dry mulga for the cattle to feed on.
The Lilleyvale Hills seemed to jump up out of nowhere and a little further on we pulled into Cawnpore Lookout.
Visually daunting but less threatening than the western side of this track we pulled into the eastern side of the lookout where we parked Harry Hilux and proceeded to scramble up the steep, gravel, rocky track – small feat on its own… and I was so pleased I had pleaded with Guy to leave our vehicle below and not attempt the drive!
We were surrounded by a beautiful display of wildflowers as we climbed the rocky track to the first level where a picnic shelter marked the lookout and the vantage point that stands above a cutting through the hills. From there we followed a narrow goat track to the very top of the second level where we were privy to even better and more spectacular 360-degree views, and the stark flat-topped beauty of the Lilleyvale Hills.
Back at the picnic shelter the silence that surrounded us was broken by the spinning of wheels and on further investigation we were shocked to see two backpackers in an old camper attempting to negotiate the western track and trying hard to gain traction on the loose rock and rubble as they slowly inched their way up the steep, rocky terrain… the track we had avoided.
The engine revved in an attempt to keep the vehicle moving and preventing it from sliding back down the hill but eventually they gave up and very carefully reversed back down the treacherous slope to the carpark.
From here we crossed from the Boulia Shire into the Winton Shire and a further 51-kilometres along the road, situated on the drought-ravaged plains on the edge of the ancient Eromanga Sea, we came to the one-horse outback town of Middleton… a place we had never heard of!
The small town apparently grew up around its rundown, quirky, wooden pub but has long since disappeared leaving only the pub with the title of being one of the most isolated hotels in Queensland and three people – the publican, his wife and their son and a few cattle and camels are the sole residents of Middleton!
Lots of stories (including a few ghost stories) were told when we stopped for a cold beer, there was some interesting memorabilia to check out, and the proprietors assured us they were kept very busy… running the pub!
Built in 1876 this 144-year-old hotel was once one of nine changing stations on the Cobb and Co route and had certainly stood the test of time!
All that remains of the township apart from the old wooden pub is a longstanding stagecoach out the front, a memorial dedicated to early explorers, a old dance hall, a windmill, a tin shed, a lonely phone box and over the road an example of the typical witty outback humour we tend to see in these parts – a sign pointing to the ‘Hilton Hotel’ – ‘No aircon, no TV, no pool, no charge’ just a dusty campground to share with cattle.
Middleton’s history began with the exploration of the area in 1862 when John McKinlay passed through the area in search of the lost expedition of Burke and Wills.
He left Adelaide in 1861 with a party of nine and early in 1862 they followed the Diamantina on its eastern bank up to a point near old Cork Station, and then turned north-west, following a creek, and becoming the first white men to enter the Winton District.
In 1862 the creek was named in honour of W. Middleton, McKinlay’s second in charge. They passed by the present site of the Middleton township and continued on towards the Gulf.
A memorial cairn in front of the old hall lists the men who were part of the exploration party. It’s quite amazing how our early pioneers endured such harsh conditions.
In 2015 on the outskirts of this little town of three, a movie set was constructed to shoot the Australian film ‘Goldstone’.
This film is about an Indigenous detective we all know from the sequel ‘Mystery Road’ who, three years after exposing the corruption in his hometown of Winton, is sent to the small mining town of Goldstone to find a missing Asian tourist.
All that remains of that movie set is a little cabin.
With the harsh sun beating down and the red dust swirling, the smoky horizon seemed to stretch out forever.
We had literally driven for hours today on a stretch of road with not another soul to be seen.
It was a dry stretch where not a blade of grass could be seen from the road, just red stony sparce lands of gidgee and mulga and an amazing landscape of Mitchell grass and spinifex plains, only interrupted by mesa formations with flat tops, vertical sides and scree slopes.
Eventually we came to Poddy Creek Rest Area, which at first didn’t appear very appealing, but as it was getting late in the day, we decided it was time to set up camp.
Behind the rest area, a large cleared area in the scrub showed signs of campfires so heading along a dirt track away from the road for about 300-metres we found a nice spot next to a shelter that overlooked the beautiful Diamantina River Flood Plains and spinifex covered landscape. A campfire under the stars, or to boil the billy in the morning would have made it perfect had it not been for the high winds and the catastrophic fire warning!
We could just make out the smoke on the horizon and knew we were at the mercy of the elements. It was still blowing hard and the temperature had risen to 34 degrees. Out here the extremes in weather rule the lives of station owners, Aboriginals, and tourists alike and I should imagine there is no fighting drought, flood, or fire!
We hadn’t had our fly nets out for a while but even with the strong breeze we needed them here.
That night, after an amazing sunset, we settled in for the night to the howl of distant dingos. To me there are no other sounds at one with the outback than a dingo… and next morning we woke to the screeching corellas flocking in the sparse gidgee – and a brilliant sunrise.
Situated in the heart of Matilda and dinosaur country, historic Winton awaited… so after packing up we hit the road early.