Words: Len Rutledge; Pictures: Phensri Rutledge
The Australian Outback is a vast, dry, remote area of the country with a sparse population, well-adapted wildlife and a rapidly developing tourism industry. Many of the well-known natural icons such as Uluru, Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta, Katherine Gorge and the Devil’s Marbles are in the Northern territory but many of the man-made icons are in Queensland. My wife and I recently travelled 4000 kilometres through Queensland and in the process we visited many of the best sites. Here are some recommendations.
Miles Historical Village and Museum
Miles is a small town with a population of around 1500, about 335 kilometres west of Brisbane. The Historical Village was established by volunteers in 1971 and it now contains over 30 buildings from the early 1900s. They include a hospital, cafe, bank, post office, bakery, hotel, jail, school, church and so on. It is a great opportunity to see how our grandparents lived.
As well as the buildings, there is a railway station and steam locomotive, an aboriginal area, and some specialist museum collections. We were fascinated by the world-class collection of fossil woods and Australia’s most extensive display of petrified plants from the Jurassic period. The Shell House contains the largest collection of shells in Australia while the War Museum has items from the Boer War to Vietnam.
We knew little about the Village before visiting there but now strongly recommend it as a place to go when travelling to Outback Queensland.
Charleville Cosmos Centre
Charleville is a further 410 kilometres to the west and it is one of the larger towns in western Queensland. Tourism is a growing industry and the Charleville Cosmos Centre has put the town well and truly on the tourist map. The spectacular clear night skies of Outback Queensland offer some of the world’s best sky watching conditions and the Cosmos Centre takes this to a new level.
The Centre operates both day-time and night-time shows. We did an evening tour which started with a short film about the universe then we were taken into a large hall where four telescopes were set up. Magically the roof rolls away and the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon.
We learned that our galaxy, the Milky Galaxy, contains up to 400 billion stars. It is one of billions, possibly trillions of galaxies in the universe. We viewed twin stars, planets and star clusters through the telescopes and loved the experience. It all ended too soon but we will be back.
Tree of Knowledge
Barcaldine is 410 kilometres north of Charleville. It is home to one of Australia’s most famous ghost gum trees. Unfortunately, in an act of vandalism, the 200-year-old tree was poisoned in 2006 and all that remains is the preserved trunk. It sits outside the railway station in the main street of town under a man-made shelter.
The tree is connected to an important time in Australia’s political development as it was used as the meeting place for shearers during the Great Shearers Strike of 1891. During that strike, a crucial connection was forged between unions and what was to become the Australian Labor Party and it remains today.
Australian Workers Heritage Centre
This Centre has been established to remind us of the history and traditions of working Australians who built Australia and fought for freedoms that all citizens now enjoy. It is in the middle of Barcaldine on a large site and it consists of 13 different buildings and a large central billabong.
We entered through the Orientation and Retail Outlet then walked around the site. We really enjoyed some parts such as the Artesia Railway Station while others were somewhat disappointing. Many exhibits have been provided by unions and government organisations and unfortunately they vary widely in sophistication and general interest.
That’s not to say the Centre should not be visited. The events of 1891 need to be remembered and the activities which led to the establishment of the world’s first Labor Government (in Queensland in 1899) should be celebrated.
Qantas Founders Museum
Longreach is the largest town in Queensland’s central west and is 110 kilometres west of Barcaldine. The museum was established after a group of locals decided that they wanted to preserve the story of Qantas. It has since grown into a world-class modern museum that features planes and displays and deserves several hours of your time.
Some of the highlights are the original 1921 Qantas hangar, an open-cockpit Avro 504K, one of the first two aircraft owned by the airline, Boeing 747 and a Boeing 707 which was the first jet aircraft operated by Qantas and the very first civilian jet aircraft registered in Australia. Another aircraft awaiting proper restoration is a Catalina famous for flying the Qantas blockade buster services across the Indian Ocean during World War Two, which is still recognised as the longest endurance regular transport flights ever.
It is possible to just visit the museum but I strongly recommend also taking a tour of the two modern aircraft. You get to see parts of the aircraft that passengers never see and there is even an opportunity to do a wing walk.
Stockman’s Hall of Fame
The Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre in Longreach has become a major outback heritage institution since its opening in 1988. The building is stunning and inside, the five themed galleries display the history behind some of Australia’s greatest and bravest explorers, stock workers, pastoralists, and Aborigines. There is an eclectic mix of objects, images, 12 touch-screen audiovisual films outlining the history of outback life, audiovisual presentations and open displays and as we moved around a light and sound shows played on the vaulted ceiling of the hall.
As well as the museum there is an Outback Stockman’s Show from Tuesday to Sunday between May and October. There is also the Hugh Sawrey Art Gallery located in a building adjacent to the Hall and the Wool Bale Café which serves a basic range of refreshments and snacks.
The whole complex takes several hours to properly enjoy and we came away with a far greater appreciation of the complex elements that exist in this vast Outback area of Australia.
Australian Age of Dinosaurs
We travelled for 165 kilometres from Longreach towards Winton in central Queensland until we saw a large flat raised area to our left called a mesa. Here we followed a road to this working museum which has the most productive fossil preparation facility in the southern hemisphere and the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils. You visit on a tour.
We joined the mid-day tour and found that it involved visits to two different areas. We started in the Collection Room where through talks and film we learned how the Winton area has evolved over the last 600 million years, where and how the dinosaur bones are found, and what’s involved in digging them up. Then we saw some of the bones of 100 million year-old animals that have been discovered locally.
The second part of the tour involved walking or driving to the Laboratory where we saw fossils being worked on and revealed for the first time in 100 million years. This was fascinating and we wished we had more time to learn about the techniques used to free the bones from the rock then piece them together into a skeleton.
The museum shop stocks a range of dinosaur-related clothing and souvenirs, while the cafe offers hot and cold drinks, baked and savoury options, and ice-creams.
He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.
Along the way, he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide, and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award, and other recognition.
He is the author of the Experience Guidebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore, Experience Melbourne, and Experience Ireland. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com