Muddy Water

Lately, vast areas of Queensland have been covered in brown water. The dust from our recent western trip is still on our tyres, but many of the roads we drove on are now cut by floods. The Cunningham Highway and the border rivers areas went under last week: Warwick, Stanthorpe, Texas, Yelarbon. Inglewood was inundated and 800 people, the entire population, were evacuated in the middle of the night.

Inglewood school yard under floodwater abc.net.au

It’s hot and sunny in all these areas today, and people are cleaning up that stinking mud.

Helping to clean up the Inglewood Spar Supermarket abc.net.au

Goondiwindi waited anxiously for the flood to reach them.

Goondiwindi’s iconic Gunsynd statue ready for the flood goondiwindiargus.com.au

The water in the Macintyre River rose overnight, and the question was, as always: will the levee bank keep the water out of town? It did, but was a near thing. Many outlying houses and farms went under.

Between Texas and Goondiwindi abc.net.au

Two months ago we were in Winton, and the entire countryside was in drought. Since then, they’ve had around 100mm of rain. The dry desert jump-up we drove up to in September, the location for the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, had waterfalls cascading down its cliffs two weeks ago.

Age of Dinosaurs Museum, Winton, after heavy rain Experience Outback Queensland

If your peaches and apricots are ready to pick, or your beautiful wheat crop due for harvest, these storms and flooding rains have been a disaster; but still, to have the rivers and farm dams overflowing with brown water after so long a drought is a miracle.

In the hilly, rainforest country of coastal Queensland, brown flood water is soon gone from rivers and creeks and they return to their normal clear and beautiful condition.

Skipping stones in the clear water at Northbrook Gorge, in the hills near Mount Glorious, an hour’s drive from Brisbane

In the rolling downs and flat country that makes up most of the state, the black soil country and red dirt country, the creeks and rivers rarely run clear; but these muddy western rivers and creeks are clean of pollution and rich with life. Locals and travellers love to camp on their banks to fish and swim.

In Longreach, tourist boats explore the Thomson River; and Goondiwindi has a 210ha Water Park, a stretch of creek designated for power boats, water-skiing and swimming. Not this week though.

After leaving Winton in early October, we drove south into the Channel Country and spent the night at Windorah, near Cooper Creek.

On the Cooper south west of Windorah – the Channel Country scottbridle.com

In the garden of the small but interesting local museum sits the flood boat that was used over many years on the intricate channels of the Channel Country, carrying supplies to the marooned and rescuing people, and their animals too.

The Windorah flood boat

Leaving Windorah, we headed down the quiet Kyabra Creek Road, a recently sealed short cut leading to the tiny town of Eromanga. Eromanga is growing famous for the massive dinosaur fossils discovered in the area, and for its Natural History Museum, where they are preserved and assessed. Dinosaur tourism provides a financial boost to much of western Queensland.

We met no traffic along the way, saw no sign of habitation, until we reached Kyabra Creek. There, we were startled to come across a large encampment of caravans, tents and four-wheel drive vehicles along the banks of a wide, milk coffee coloured lagoon.

Kyabra Creek – the Eromanga Mates Reunion

Children were swimming in the muddy water, and along the banks there were fishing rods, kayaks and canoes. Teenagers zoomed around on trail bikes. Such freedom! It was the opposite to a neat, regimented coastal holiday park experience.

And the water was the opposite to the clear water of a Wet Tropics creek where you can look straight through sparkling water and count the stones on the bottom.

The Boulders, Babinda, Far North Queensland

An hour later, lunching on BLTs on the verandah of the old Royal Hotel (better known as the Eromanga Pub) we learned what was happening out on Kyabra Creek.

Lunch on the verandah at the Eromanga Pub

It was the Eromanga Mates Reunion. All those people had come, some from far away, for a four-day get-together to relive their childhood and meet up with other ex-locals. They have a Facebook page that shows how much fun they had that weekend, on the banks of the brown, muddy lagoon.

Two days later, on a Sunday morning in Charleville, we parked near a row of heavily-laden four-wheel drives, stopped at the bakery, with adults checking their loads and standing around talking while kids played chasey on the footpath. I think they’d been to the Eromanga Reunion, and they were on their way back to the coast in time for the new school term.

Bakery stop, Charleville

Many years ago, a little cousin of mine slipped into a brown western creek and drowned before anyone could find her, and so they scare me a bit. But this month there will be little western Queensland children playing in puddles for the first time in their lives; and their big brothers and sisters will be bomb-diving into muddy farm dams that haven’t seen water for years.

Lovely.

Relaxing at Kyabra Creek Matthew Coleman

Main image: Kyabra Creek sunset Thomas Wilkinson

Good to Go!

This year, when it comes to travel, Queenslanders have few choices. Because of the pandemic, no overseas or interstate travel is allowed, flights within the state are few and expensive, and most long-distance train services are on hold.

So, if we want to travel, we’ll need to hit the road, and we’re being urged to do just that, now that COVID-19 seems to be under control here: to take a road trip, explore Queensland, and support regional tourism. Let’s do it.

This a big state, with huge distances to travel. We can’t do it all in a weekend; but the school holidays are coming up soon. Let’s go – and let’s take the kids!

Queensland has many fascinating, beautiful and well-known places to visit. Here are some of my favourites, and they are places that kids will enjoy.

Chillagoe

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Chillagoe is an old mining town on the Burke Development Road, in dry, rugged country 205 kilometres west of Cairns. With a population of about 250, it’s an interesting place with a wild west feel to it, with caves, strange and rare karst rock formations, heritage-listed ruins of a copper smelter, and the extraordinary Tom Prior Ford Museum.

In the Chillagoe-Mungara Caves National Park, take a tour led by a competent National Parks guide through the spectacular Chillagoe limestone caves.

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Chillagoe limestone caves athertontablelands.com.au

17 kilometres out of town to the west are the Mungara caves, where you can rove through a labyrinth of caves and gorges, past amazing rock formations and Aboriginal art sites.

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Rock paintings at Mungara Caves

They say that the designers of the film “Avatar” based their flying rock islands on the cliffs of Mungara.

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Also in the national park, the atmospheric old smelter ruins look spectacular in evening light amongst the red hills.

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Copper smelter ruins

In the town creek there is a beautiful swimming hole. In summer, so hot here in the tropical inland, it must be irresistible.

On the edge of town, visit Tom Prior’s amazing and eccentric collection of old Fords, in his original mechanic’s shed, open to the public by contribution. I like this kind of museum – years of work by an expert and passionate collector, displayed in its authentic setting.

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Tom Prior’s Ford Museum

Carisbrooke Station

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The Winton area, in Western Queensland, beyond the black soil plains and in the land of spinifex and red bluffs (jump-ups, in local terms), looks wonderful on film. Think of Aaron Pedersen, the lean, gruff detective of 2013 movie “Mystery Road”, poised on the red rock bluffs of Carisbrooke Station, ready for a shoot-out with the villains.

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Aaron Pedersen in “Mystery Road” filmink.com.au

Winton, 1358 kilometres from Brisbane, now has its own film festival: the “Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival”. Also the “Way out West” Music Festival, Outback Writers Festival, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs centre (a must), Waltzing Matilda Centre – and Camel Racing. But the real beauty lies out of town.

Several years ago we took a three-generations family road trip from Brisbane, ending up with a farm stay on Carisbrooke Station. In the late afternoon, tired and hungry, we turned off the Kennedy Development Road forty kilometres west of Winton and drove down a deserted gravel road, trusting that we would eventually find our home for the night. The kids yelled out in excitement when a mob of kangaroos bounded across the road in front of us. Until now, all they’d seen was roadkill.

When we finally pulled in front of our accommodation, we knew that the trip had been worth it. The whole huge bowl of the sky was filled with the reds and pinks of sunset.

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Carisbrooke Station sunset

The corrugated iron workers’ quarters we’d booked had four simple bedrooms, a kitchen/living room, and a barbecue out the front so we could keep looking at that wonderful sky while dinner cooked, until the sunset faded and a million starts appeared in the clear, dry air.

Farmer and guide Charlie took us up on to the jump-up next day, to explore, boil the billy and look out over that magnificent countryside.

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Charlie boiling the billy

We drove up to join the red gravel Winton-Jundah Road and visit Lark Quarry Conservation Park, site of the famous dinosaur stampede – inspiration for the stampede of large and small dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park”.

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Site of the Lark Quarry Dinosaur Stampede

On the road back to Winton, we met one of the mining road trains that we’d been warned used this road. It was trailing a huge cloud of dust. People have died in head-to-head collisions in these dust clouds.

Pulling off the road, we waited while the trucks thundered past and red dust blocked the sun, settling on the cars and into every crack and crevice.

Next day, back in Longreach, the cars were loaded on the Spirit of the Outback and we started the twenty-four-hour train journey back to Brisbane.

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Cars loaded on the train at Longreach

It’s a loss for the tourist industry in Longreach and Cairns and elsewhere that travellers can no longer drive one way and load their cars on to the train for the return journey. For working families and school kids, time is limited. To spend three more days driving back to Brisbane would have made our family trip impossible.

Charleville

Years ago, so I’m told, when the Commonwealth government was granting money to outback towns to develop tourist attractions, Charleville, 745 kilometres west of Brisbane, was offered money for a Cobb and Co. Museum. The locals thought it over, and had a better idea. At the local high school were teachers keen on astronomy, and there were other enthusiasts in the district. The climate in Western Queensland is perfect for star-gazing – open skies and dry, clear air. Why not start an observatory instead? So the Cosmos Centre was established at Charleville, and Toowoomba got the Cobb and Co. Museum.

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Big Sky Observatory at the Cosmos Centre, Charleville queensland.com

On a cold winter night we went to the Cosmos Centre for a session at their Big Sky Observatory. We sat with blankets over our knees, among families and children, taking turns to look through telescopes operated by remote control to focus on particular galaxies and planets, while the well-informed staff told us what we were looking at. Above us the Milky Way sprawled across the sky.

Next day, we visited another Charleville highlight, the Bilby Experience: a not-for-profit centre dedicated to the preservation of those cute local creatures, with a chance to get up close to them, support their protection and buy a bilby t-shirt.

road trip bilby
Charleville Bilby Experience abc.net.au

In Charleville we stayed at the famous and spectacular 1920s Corones Hotel. For children, having the run of a big, old country pub is great experience.

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Corones Hotel, Charleville

Con and I slept in a room with a private terrace, original furniture and tiled bathroom, once occupied by visiting celebrities such as solo aviator Amy Johnson, and singer Gracie Fields, brought in to entertain the American troops stationed here during the war. Harry Corones, the Greek immigrant who built the hotel, was an ardent supporter and original shareholder in QANTAS, which began here in central-western Queensland.

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Original Souvenir Booklet for Corones Hotel guests

With its 60 metres long central corridor, its original bar room and ballroom, stained glass and brass and timber fittings, this once-luxurious hotel, the wonder of the west, has seen hard times, but new owners are bringing it back to life.

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Fine details in Corones Hotel

We took a guided tour of the old hotel – startled to find that our (untidy) room would be part of the tour.

These fine old country towns have suffered from changing conditions, the downturn in the wool industry, loss of banks and shops and young people; but they are full of staunch locals and interesting sights. When the premier says, “Queensland, you’re good to go!!” it’s places like these she is urging us to visit.

And when we get home to the coastal towns and cities where most of us live, and we begin to wash the dust off the car, we’ll pause, and feel a sense of pride that we’ve been out there, far from home, supporting our fellow Queenslanders, and having fine adventures along the way. And the kids will never forget it.

If they need reminding, they just need to go to the movies.

 

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On the road

 

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