With cooler weather here at last, it was time to explore some of the outback places on our list, and with a bit of planning we could tick off more than one.
I’ve been keen to check out Winton’s dinosaur attractions for many years and recent opening of a new exhibit at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs park was a great excuse to head out there. I’ve also long wanted to take Suzzanne to the QANTAS museum, gem fossicking and to Carnarvon Gorge, so we planned to work all of those into our trip too.
From home we cut a fairly direct line, with the first days’ drive taking us west on the Warrego Highway, up the Toowoomba bypass, through Dalby and to Roma for lunch beside largest of the town’s many bottle trees.
We kept rolling westward into the afternoon sun and arrived at our destination, the Gidgee Bush Camp, a place I found on the Hipcamp app just outside of Morven. Check in was pretty casual, with a phone call letting us know to come through the gate and set up where ever we wanted… Much of the camping area is still being developed and the ground was rough and rutted, but that didn’t deter us and we found a great little spot away from the main area beside a dam that was being constructed.
The owners of Gidgee Bush Camp have done a fantastic job of personalising the camp ground, with every corner containing some sort of artwork – wrought iron, paintings, bush sculptures and quirky creations adorn the area. And if you think that is out there, check out the bohemian little café retreat and bar which is colourful and homely all at once. We can’t work out how they keep the place so clean and tidy in this dusty outdoor setting, speaking of which, the amenities are spotless! Definitely a recommended destination if you are travelling west toward Charleville.
And if the campground didn’t impress us, the sunset painted clouds sure did!
Next morning saw us packed and on the road after grabbing a coffee from the Gidgee café, then turning onto the Landsborough Highway headed north – the road soon joins the Mitchell Highway and morphs into the Matilda Way, an 1,800km stretch of bitumen that takes you all the way to the Gulf of Carpentaria through the country that inspired Banjo Patterson to write many of his ballads.
First stop for the morning was the pretty little town of Augathella, another that has been on my must visit list since hearing the melodic name as a child on the ABC Rural Weather report call outs.
It always amazes me when driving around these outback towns, just how many vintage and post war cars are tucked under houses and behind sheds. They would soon be snapped up and turned into hot rods or restorations if so visible in a city, but out here many are still in use idling around the town, or are under a tarp and designated as a project “to be started soon”.
We kept motoring across the plains, through Tambo and eventually a lunch stop at Blackall, that included a visit to the famous Black Stump (or at least a petrified wood tribute to it).
Blackall proved to be a versatile little town, not only did we find lunch but Suzzanne found what could be the perfect handbag, ending her life long search… at least until the next one comes along. 🙂
Next stop, Barcaldine, with its long main street of shoulder to shoulder pubs, many of which are now repurposed as cafe’s and fashion outlets that brawny shearers from the 19th century would never have agreed to. Since I was last here the Tree of Knowledge under which the Australian labour movement took shape had been poisoned, and then resurrected in the form of an amazing sculpture – the designers did a stunning job of creating a representation of the tree’s former canopy, but in reverse using hanging timber tendrils. A great monument and landmark!
From Barcaldine we had an easy run due west on the Capricorn Highway to Longreach, doing our customary check on PetrolSpy to find the cheapest fuel then a driving survey of the town before checking into the Longreach Tourist Park.
Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the caravan park here, or any of them for that matter, but being hemmed in side by side with lots of big white boxes on wheels is not our idea of fun. But there are times when staying at a van park is necessary – sometimes to shower, launder and top up with water, or just because there’s nothing else around that feels secure. This was one of those times. I tried to pick a good site using Google satellite maps so that at least we didn’t have any direct neighbours, and that worked out pretty well. The park social scene was active with lots of people wandering around splashing their goblets of cheap red wine about, but for us the highlight was a lovely Chinese couple doing the rounds selling fresh garden produce from whom we bought a few things that we didn’t really need.
Suzzanne spent many years working in the airline industry and we’d talked about coming out to the QANTAS museum for a long time. The exhibits have not changed much since I was last here in 2007, except the outdoor exhibits are mostly under shelter which looks great, but is now an extra cost tour.
The Stockman’s Hall of Fame has been refreshed a little and has done more to illustrate the role and exploitation of indigenous people during the European infiltration of the country. The written history pieces and anecdotes always interest me, as do the stories that illustrate how hardy and resilient our former generations were. After taking the self guided tour we grabbed some souvenirs and lunch, then pointed the Cruiser toward Winton.
Winton is a truly iconic outback town, entwined in ancient and colonial history. The town is centre of a dinosaur tourism stampede thanks to the exhibits close by that had also drawn us out here. Also of interest to me is the period during 1800 and 1900s which was a tumultuous time for Winton with shearer uprisings, rural hardships, temporary residence by Australia’s renowned bush poet Patterson, opal mining and even a strategic role in WW2. We walked a circuit of the town’s main drag, dropping into a few stores and admiring the grand North Gregory Hotel, then checking out the new Waltzing Matilda Centre which was unfortunately closed due to COVID restrictions.
Tonight’s camp site was another selected from Hipcamp, on an 1800s sheep station just north of town, as a nod to the area’s history. Ayrshire Downs Station is a recent Hipcamp addition, with an area in their front paddock cleared and fenced for camping. The site is near to scene of a shearing shed that was burnt down in protest during the shearer’s uprising that led to formation of the Australian Labour Party – and as testimony to the areas past we even found rusty old hand shear blades poking from the dirt nearby.
We can see why a reviewer of the camp site said it was like camping on Mars, the combination of red gibber pebbles and outback sunset made the place look like another world – and if you squint the X3 even looks like an interplanetary landing pod against the fiery sky. 😉
Tonight we settled in early after two long days on the road, and tomorrow is the main event. Come with us chasing dinosaurs across the Queensland outback.