Postcards from Way Out West – May 2021

I think I speak for everyone when I say that we were all very excited to board our bus today in Brisbane and start our trip throughout Central and South West Outback Queensland.  Several of the group stayed overnight at the Ibis Airport Hotel which was nice and the rest of the group arrived early this morning along with our hostess Sue and our driver Hammond.  After setting off 15 minutes before schedule we headed north firstly to Kybong stopping at the new Puma Roadhouse for morning tea where we saw the newly refurbished ‘Matilda’ of 1982 Commonwealth Games fame and enjoyed home baked Anzacs cooked lovingly by Sue.  From here we travelled a little further north before turning left off the Bruce Highway and onto the Burnett Highway making our way through Kilkivan, Gayndah, Mundubbera and then Eidsvold where we visited the R.M. Williams Bush Learning Centre and enjoyed a lovely lunch.  We continued on, stopping at the spectacular silo art at Three Moon Creek and then on to Monto to view the Water Tank art depicting Monto in the 1920’s before heading to Biloela, wrapping up a wonderful first day.  We have a great group of spirited women, some have travelled with me before and others are new to Girls On Tour but if today is anything to go by, we have fun times and happy days ahead!

After a comfortable night in Bilo it was time to head towards Emerald stopping at several places along the way.  Our first stop was the Callide Power Station and Dam just outside Biloela.  Callide is coal powered with eight steam turbines with a combined generation capacity of 1,720 MW of electricity and supplies to the national grid.  Our next stop was the ‘Spirit of the land’ mural on one of the town’s water reservoirs told through the eyes of two women from vastly different cultural perspectives, the mural marks the deep connection we each share with land and how it shapes our cultures and customs and brings meaning to our lives.  The mural is 100 m round and the stories unfold through a series of plaques that line the path.  I particularly liked the poem on one of the plaques:

We left Biloela and travelled along the Capricorn Highway before turning left onto the Leichhardt Highway and into the Central Highlands passing over the Dawson River, through Dingo and Bluff before arriving at Blackwater.  Here we enjoyed a nice lunch at the BICC, Blackwater International Coal Centre before taking a look through the interpretive display which we found very interesting and which was made more interesting having my brother there, who lives locally, to tell us a little more about the processes.  It was a real treat for us all to have Noel jump on board along with my sister-in-law Maree and we did a tiki tour of Blackwater with Noel providing the commentary about the town and about the May Day celebrations being held to celebrate Labour Day.  We bid them farewell and continued on towards Emerald stopping at Comet to study Leichhardt’s ‘Dig Tree’ before enjoying a few quiet ones at the local Comet Pub.  I’m not quite sure Kev the barman knew what had hit him.  In Emerald we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at The Emerald Star finishing off a great day.

Emerald is a lovely outback town with lots to see and do.  It was a pleasant walk across from our hotel to Morton Park on a beautiful autumn morning where we could smell the fragrance of the native trees in the early morning air.  We stood and marveled at the ‘Big Easel’ which is an art installation erected in 1999 depicting Vincent van Gogh’s famous ‘Sunflowers’ painting.  The canvas measures 7 x 10m and the easel is 25m high.  The Emerald Easel, created by Canadian artist Cameron Cross has become a local landmark in Australia, attributed to the fact that it is the largest painting in the Southern Hemisphere.  In its efforts to help celebrate the Emerald region’s reputation as one of Australia’s primary sunflower producers, the Big Easel reflects the town’s sense of community spirit and pride.  We also followed along the Emerald Centenary of Federation Pathway, a step by step snapshot of Emerald’s history in the park. As you walk the mosaic pathway, it depicts 100 years of Emerald’s history with 21 intricately tiled designs. The detailed mosaics were created by 10 of Emerald’s local artists.  A short stop at the Emerald Botanic Gardens located on the banks of the Nogoa River to explore a little.  The 42 hectares of gardens include a rose garden, maze, bush chapel, sculptures, rainforest and playground and is very well used by locals and visitors.

As we made our way further out west, we passed fields of sorghum that seemed to go on and on forever until we arrived at The Gemfields where it was time to enjoy some delicious ‘home-baked’ morning tea prepared lovingly by Maree and then some retail therapy in the gem shops.  Much of the jewellery is made from locally found gems from the area.  The Sapphire Gemfields, are one of the largest sapphire bearing areas of the world. Taking in the townships of Rubyvale, Sapphire Central, Anakie Siding and Willows Gemfields, the Sapphire Gemfields cover almost 900 square kilometres.  Many of us ‘found’ some lovely treasure in the shops and were happy to contribute to the local economy and we especially enjoyed our visit to ‘Old Mick’s Gem Shop’ where we learned from the current owners that Old Mick fossicked for 54 years in the area, living in a very basic humpy.  When he died, leaving no will or descendants, they found over $3m worth of sapphires in treacle tins in his hut.  A nice windfall for the public trustee.  We left The Gemfields after a short stop at the beautiful gemfields signpost at the Anakie turnoff and then headed west over the Drummond Range stopping at the lookout for a beautiful view.  At 12:05pm we officially crossed over into outback Queensland!

We briefly stopped in Alpha where all the streets are named after poets such as Tennyson, Shakespeare, Byron etc., and admired some of the murals that are painted in the town which today was deserted due to the public holiday.

It was very appropriate that we should visit Barcaldine on this Labor Day as it is here at ‘The Tree of Knowledge’ that is the reputed birthplace of the labor movement in Australia.  The Tree grew outside the Railway Station for about 180 years until 2006 when sadly, it was poisoned by an unknown culprit.  We were very fortunate that one of the locals, David, who had earlier been at the unveiling of the new ‘Australian Workers Heritage Centre’ which was officially opened by the Premier, gave us some insight into the history of the tree and the famous shearer’s strike in which Jackie Howe, the legendary sheep shearer played an integral role.  He also got us special entry into see ‘The Young Un’ which is a tree that was struck from the original Tree of Knowledge.  The Premier’s visit coincides with the 130th anniversary of the 1891 Shearers’ Strike which led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party.

Our drive took us to Jericho with its drive-in theatre and Crystal Trumpeter’s monument which tells the Biblical story of the Israelites who marched around the walls of Jericho for six days then blew their trumpets on the seventh day and watched as the city walls collapsed.  From here we continued west to the end of the Capricorn Highway and on to Matilda Way to Ilfracombe where we walked along ‘The Great Machinery Mile’, a collection of machines and equipment collected from around the region and then on to our final destination for the day, Longreach.

What an amazing day we had in Longreach!  The day started with a visit to The Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame where we first of all watched a video presentation of the history of the stockman and Australia before exploring this incredible facility and then being treated to a performance by third generation Stockman, Lachie Cossor as he gave us some insight into the horses, working dogs, gear and the life of the stockman.  A very talented horseman and entertainer, he and his horse Ernie and his working dogs kept us entertained as we learned a little more about the Australian outback.

Our next stop was the Qantas Founders Museum which is just over the road from the Hall of Fame and where we had our first brush with fame for the day.  Cabinet had just met at the museum and as we arrived, our Premier was leaving in a Cobb & Co. coach to go over to the Hall of Fame and gave us a bit wave but we were very lucky to have a chat and photo opportunity with the Minister for Education, Grace Grace who was very interested in where we were all from, why we were in Longreach and where we were heading from here.  As we went into the museum our Deputy Premier, Steven Miles was leaving so there was another photo opportunity.  The Qantas Founders Museum is a wonderful place to learn about how air travel has evolved over the years.  To be so up close and personal to these incredible machines is quite humbling.  We had a private tour of all of the aircraft learning so much about them and going up inside them and we even got to see the Australia invention, ‘the black box’ which is actually orange.  The walked through the Boeing 707, Boeing 747 and Super Constellation and saw the DC-3.  Later in the evening after a spectacular sunset, we attended the ‘Luminescent Longreach’ light and sound experience which is a new attraction and one not to be missed.  It was when we were leaving this that I realised what a privilege air travel is and how much I took it for granted when it was at my fingertips.

Dinner tonight was at the 1890 Wellshot Hotel in Ilfracombe where we celebrated Robin’s birthday.  Live music, good food, cold drinks and a country atmosphere made for a really fun night and meeting young Sam Hughes, a young man who is driving his tractor 15,000kms to raise funds for charity was a highlight for us all and we were happy to contribute.  Another amazing day on our Way Out West tour!

We headed south this morning to Camden Park Station, a working sheep and cattle station of 80,000 acres where we met Outback Dan, a third generation farmer and the Walker Family who made us feel very welcome.  The station has played host to some famous people but none more famous than Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip on their Aussie tour in 1970.  On entry to the station, we learned about the 55,000 solar panels that have been installed on the station and the income and positive impact that is having on their livelihood.  We visited the lovely 1922 homestead which boasts the ‘oldest private ballroom’ in the outback which was installed in 1927 and has a few stories to tell.

After exploring the homestead we went up to the shearing shed and were met by Lynn, David and Brook Walker who welcomed us with open arms.  Brook had prepared a lovely morning tea of scones, date loaf, cheese and tomato crackers and more which was just delightful.  Lynn gave us some insight into life on the station and coming to grips with some of the practices that are necessary to maintain the well-being of the stock.  Some of which took her personally a bit of getting used to.  Camden Park Station produces organic beef and sheep and are very proud of their best practices and their embracing of modern technologies.  The Santa Gertrudis cattle were quite inquisitive when we drove up around the dam for a look see.  This was a really great outback experience and one I’d recommend.

In the afternoon we enjoyed a sunset cruise on the Thomson River followed by dinner and entertainment at Smithy’s Outback Dinner.  Our entertainer was singer/songwriter Corinne Ballard who is an amazing young woman and we were delighted to be able to wish her Happy Birthday and to bring some fun and frivolity to the night!!

Before leaving Longreach I did a little walk around the streets checking out some of the historical points such as the replica of the original Qantas Booking Office, The Resilient Heart Sculpture, The Hope Tree, the Council Chambers, the tree planted by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1970, the Chainsaw Art by Matt George, the Railway Station and the Anzac Memorial Park.  Fun fact 😊, You may have noticed that all the streets are named after birds. Streets running east to west are named after water birds and north to south are named after land birds.
After loading up we left Longreach and headed towards Winton stopping along the way for morning tea and learning a little about one of the local larrikins, stockman, drover, cattle thief, Henry Readford, more commonly known as Captain Starlight.  He worked as a stockman on Bowen Downs Station and drowned in NT at Corella Creek.  We learned about The Great Artesian Basin which is the largest and deepest artesian basin in the world, stretching over 1,7m square kilometres and is the only source of fresh water in some parts of inland Australia.  The temperature of the water coming out of the basin can range from 30oC to 100oC.

We saw lots of kangaroos and bush turkeys (Bustards) along the way today before arriving at the home of AB (Banjo) Paterson and Waltzing Matilda, Winton, where we visited the Matilda Centre, the first museum dedicated to a song and later enjoyed some down time playing pool and enjoying some coldies in the bar at the historical North Gregory Hotel.

Up and on the road early today for our visit to Age Of Dinosaurs.  We visited the laboratory where we learned about fossil preparation and then the Collection Room which houses the only known specimens of Australia’s largest, and most complete carnivorous dinosaur – Australovenator wintonensis, nicknamed “Banjo”, as well as Australia’s most complete sauropod Diamantinasaurus matildae, nicknamed “Matilda” and Savannasaurus elliottorum “Wade”.  Next a very informative tour along Dinosaur Canyon with life sized replicas of these ancient giants.  On our return to Winton we took a look at some of the local points of interest including Arno’s Wall, the old Outdoor Theatre, The Chinese Fruit Shop which was very interesting and the Musical Fence which is in much need of some TLC.  Tonight, a highlight as we frocked up and bought a little glamour to the North Gregory with our “Op Shop Formal” which was a hoot and which had Robin being named ‘Belle of the Ball’.  I don’t think the locals and the grey nomads knew what hit them!  All around Winton there is lots of bougainvillea and although this grows well out west there are some of the colours here which are new to me.

Robin, Deb and I got up early to walk to the cemetery to explore and got treated to a beautiful sunrise.  Just over an hours drive and we were at Lark Quarry, considered to be the only known record of a dinosaur stampede in the world.  The museum has been purpose built over the trackway site to preserve it for future generations.  Here you can see over 150 pairs of footprints belonging to 2 different types of dinosaurs, one about the size of chickens and the other some as big as Emus frozen in time from a period of over 95 million years ago after trying to escape a huge meat-eating theropod.  We travelled back to Winton under the most magnificent blue sky and enjoyed a free afternoon.

Mother’s Day today and after a late night reconnaissance mission by Sue and I for flowers to decorate the tables, it ended up looking pretty good.   A leisurely start to the day as we made our way to the award-winning Mitchell Grass Retreat and where we celebrated Deb’s birthday with sunset drinks, cheese platters, a BBQ and a campfire in this little piece of outback paradise.

Thanks Tanya, David and Mackenzie at Mitchell Grass Retreat for an amazing stay. Such welcoming hospitality and world class facilities. We’re thrilled to be your first all women group and are delighted that you loved having us there as much as we loved being there.

Wow what a day.  We left the beautiful Mitchell Grass Retreat and headed south to Eromanga via Stonehenge, Jundah and Windorah with stops along the way for morning tea in Jundah, (where I surprised the girls with vanilla slice), a delicious lunch at the Western Star Hotel where Ian and his staff were very welcoming and for happy hour at a random tree with our final destination for the day Eromanga.

We had an early start today as we had almost 500kms to travel so we saw much more wildlife today than usual.  We saw Kangaroos, Emus, goats, cattle, sheep, brolgas, bustards and wasaroos.  If you’re wondering what a wasaroo is, it is a cross between a kangaroo and a fast moving vehicle.

Passing rolling plains, rivers, cracked channel country, a native well and beautiful skies, we stopped in Jundah, at Cooper’s Crossing and then we visited the Red Sands of Windorah which Sue, Carol and myself climbed to the top of before a stop at the Rugged Art Garden created by the people of Windorah.

Tonight, we were privileged to be the very first group hosted for dinner at Eromanga Natural History Museum where we enjoyed a beautiful 3 course dinner prepared by chef Fiona. What a spin out to have a 95 million year old dinosaur bone as a centrepiece on the table. It will soon be placed behind glass in the museum. Thank you to Cory, Jo, Letitia, Fiona and team for a fantastic experience.

Our day started today with a private tour of the museum which houses Cooper, a Titanosaur who would have stood 6.5 metres high at the hip and would have been 30 meters long making him Australia’s largest and one of the 10 largest dinosaurs in the world. Our guide, historian Shauni gave a very informative and educational talk on all of their findings so far in a way that captivated us. Incredible to think that everything we saw in the museum came about by a 14 year old boy out mustering sheep and finding an ‘interesting rock’ which turned out to be the first piece of dinosaur bone found in South West Queensland.
We said farewell to Eromanga, the furthest town from the sea and travelled about 400kms to Cunnamulla stopping at St Finbar’s Church in Quilpie with it’s beautiful opal altar, lectern and baptismal font before climbing up to the lookout at Baldy Top. Lunch today was at Toompine and then over the Paroo River through Eulo and then the Warrego River arriving at our final destination for the day, Cunnamulla. Our hotel is run by Peitia who along with just a couple of staff are doing an amazing job under difficult conditions. We had a wonderful time around the campfire tonight with a live band, especially for us and a delicious three course meal. Country hospitality at its best.

Our host and the publican of the hotel Peitia, jumped on the bus this morning and gave us a guided tour of Cunnamulla.  What a treat to have a 5th generation local tell us all about the history of the town along with current issues and projects.  The town was settled in the mid-late 1880’s and was a Cobb & Co changing post along the route to Bourke.  When they were doing repairs to the site of where the Cobb & Co wagons stopped, they found a gold sovereign.  One of the early poets in the region wrote about Cunnamulla, “Absolutely nothing to see” but that wasn’t for long as at one time this was a huge shearing region with up to 450 shearers here at one time, so one can only imagine the activity.  A man named Tyson became Australia’s first self-made millionaire on the back of sheep and property.  Cunnamulla is very popular with bird watchers as it boasts over 215 species of birds including rare birds.  During flood the waters can rise so high it would cover our bus.  We drove out to the Allan Tannock Weir.  Mr Tannock was a long-time resident of Cunnamulla and in his role as a stock and station agent he saw first-hand the ravages of drought and damage caused by flooding. The town’s weir on the Warrego River is named after him.  It was completed in 1991 and is vital for agriculture, town water and recreation.

Cunnamulla is also well known for it’s exporting of goats to Arab countries after the crash of the wool industry.  We also visited the ‘Robbers Tree’ where Peitia told us the story of Joseph Wells, a station hand, who robbed the Queensland National Bank at Cunnamulla at gunpoint in 1880.  He was found guilty and was executed for armed robbery with wounding becoming the last person in Queensland to face capital punishment for this crime.  Back into town to visit the famous statue of ‘The Cunnamulla Fella’ cast in bronze from an original drawing by Michael Nicholas and depicting the ‘ringers’ of the bush and as a tribute to the co-writers of the song, Stan Coster and Slim Dusty.

We headed back to the little town of Eulo with a population of 45 which is often referred to as ‘The Montville of The Outback’.  Famous not only for the infamous “Eulo Queen” and the hotel named after her but also for local honey and leather goods as well as opal and craft which can all be purchased in the town and in the past the world lizard racing championships.  Another tourist attraction here is the statue of a large Diprotodon, nicknamed Kenny after fossils were found in 2011 of the giant, wombat-like marsupial which lived millions of years ago.

Another night under the stars at Club Boutique Hotel in Cunnamulla with amazing food, wine and a live band mixed with a warm fire to finish off another perfect day.

It’s no surprise that Charlotte Plains has been voted one of the ‘Best Experiences’ in Queensland. Robyn and her small band of helpers are the epitome of country hospitality. Robyn shared her story and family history with us and drove us around in Lottie the bus to explore the property including the hot bore, the 130 year old woodshed where over 57,000 sheep were shorn, the homestead, Jack’s Hut, Willy the camelier’s wagon and the family cemetery.

This grand lady singularly runs this 70,000 acre property that in its heyday was over 380,000 acres in size. Robyn’s grandfather, Bunny Nagel purchased the property after the death of two Scottish brothers. Lunch at the homestead with the fine china was delightful and I think our sunset drinks and soak in the hot tubs and pond was a highlight for everyone. Dinner was a home cooked meal of corned beef with white sauce and veggies and sticky date pudding prepared by Robyn and Lynn. At dinner we presented Robyn with a GOT fleecy and she was chuffed. All in all an amazing experience at Charlotte Plains.

A leisurely start to the day stopping first at the recently opened WWII Tour Secret USA Airforce Base attraction.  In 1942 this top secret base was set up and housed 3,500 US serviceman, approximately 160 aircraft including B-17 and B-24 bombers. It’s quite interesting and worth a look.

From here we headed into town for a look around before delivering yet another surprise for the girls, a visit to the Bilby experience. The Bilby is a nocturnal marsupial and our only remaining Arid Bandicoot in Australia. It was facing extinction until 2 men took up its cause and there is now a successful breeding program and fencing in place to protect their known habitats.

Lunch today was at the local RSL where we joined in with the daily raffles and played bingo which was a hoot!!  Beverley even won a meat tray and kindly gave it to a local family who were most grateful.

After lunch we had a guided tour of the Hotel Corones built in 1929 by Greek immigrant Harry Corones who arrived in Australia penniless and went on to be very successful and to make Australian history more than once. It was a very informative tour by a very passionate Rachael and walking through this historical building was a real treat.

With the serious stuff done it was time to play and several of us headed to the Charleville Show where we indulged our inner child and rode the dodgem car, the rides and ate fairly floss and Dagwood dogs. A wonderful day!

Getting colder as we head further south with a temperature of 5deg C this morning. As we left Charleville, driving past Box Gums glistening in the early morning rays Sue told us more about Cobb & Co., and how in the day towns were spaced a day apart by coach which is only an hour using modern day transport.  We stopped for coffee at a little place called Morven which has some lovely historical buildings and a beautiful ANZAC Memorial along with some nice statues.

Next it was time to indulge ourselves in the therapeutic water of the Great Artesian Spa. What a treat.   Just before we crossed over into the Western Downs and on to Roma, we came to a halt as hundreds of cattle were on and around the road as part of a ‘long paddock’ on their way to Roma.

On our arrival we explored the Avenue of Heroes, a street where soldiers from WWI are honoured with bottle trees and a plaque depicting where they served and died. We stopped at the Roma Saleyards, the largest in Australia as well as The Big Rig, a museum about the history of oil and coal seam gas in the region.

Well after 17 days of history, adventure, experiences, fun, frivolity and companionship it’s time to head home.

Our first Girls On Tour “Way Out West” trip has been absolutely fantastic and has exceeded all expectations. Under the professional and capable reins of Sue from Sue McPherson Tours and Travel and our driver, Hammond from Premier Coaches, we have followed in the footsteps of explorers and pioneers, met inspirational current day pioneers and gained a little insight into the hardships and challenges of life in the outback.  We were in awe of the discoveries made in our own backyard of dinosaurs and megafauna and loved learning about the outback characters and their stories.  We’ve seen beautiful sunrises and beautiful sunsets and enjoyed incredible outback hospitality.

Staying in the shearers quarters at Charlotte Plains Station and in the luxurious tents of Mitchell Grass Resort were definitely highlights as well as the hot bores at Charlotte Plains and Mitchell.

As we made our way to Brisbane we travelled through Jackson, Miles, Chinchilla, Dalby, Oakey and on to Toowoomba, Sue’s hometown. We were lucky enough to see a crop duster in action too.

Thank you Sue for everything. You’re a beautiful soul and we all love you.

Thank you to our exceptional driver, Hammond who by all accounts has loved having us on board.

Lastly, THANK YOU to my girls who totally embraced the bush and always said yes to whatever Sue and I threw at them.  It’s been an amazing experience and one I hope you’ll all remember fondly.  xx Judy (Founder, Owner, Tour Escort – Girls On Tour)