This story appeared in eglobal Travel Media in February 2008.
Brisbane to Townsville — Len and Phensri Rutledge take the long way
It seemed crazy driving 750 kilometres west from Brisbane before turning north but small outback towns, some man-made icons and friends on a cattle property all contributed to the choice. Six days later we arrived in coastal Townsville enriched greatly by the experience.
Miles and Charleville
The Warrego Highway rolls through the Lockyer Valley then climbs the range to Toowoomba. The garden city was in full bloom for the Festival of Flowers and despite the drought, the city was a picture. If you have never seen this colour extravaganza you have missed one of Queensland’s premier regional festivals.
Pressing on westward we made our first stop at the Miles Historic Village. This 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, a world-class collection of fossil woods and Australia’s most extensive display of petrified plants from the Jurassic period. If you are out that way, don’t miss it.
Charleville 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 then we were taken into a large hall where four telescopes were set up. Magically the roof rolled away and the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. We learned that our galaxy contains up to 400 billion stars. It is one of billions, possibly trillions of galaxies in the universe. It all ended too soon but we will be back.
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 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.
Just around the corner is the Australian Workers Heritage Centre. This was established to remind us of the history and traditions of working Australians who built Australia and fought for freedoms that all citizens now enjoy.
Longreach is the largest town in Queensland’s central west and is 110 km west of Barcaldine. It is home to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum, two major attractions.
The Hall of Fame 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, and open displays. There is also the Hugh Sawrey Art Gallery and the Wool Bale Café for refreshments and snacks.
Some of the highlights of the Qantas Founders Museum are the original 1921 Qantas hangar, an open-cockpit Avro 504K, one of the first two aircraft owned by the airline, a DC3, a Boeing 747 and a Boeing 707. Another aircraft awaiting proper restoration is a Catalina, famous for flying the Qantas blockade buster services across the Indian Ocean during World War II.
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 unique wing walk.
We travelled for 165 kilometres from Longreach towards Winton then followed a sign to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a working museum which has the most productive fossil preparation facility in the southern hemisphere and the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils.
The tour involved visits to two different areas. It 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 visited the Laboratory where fossils were being worked on.
Winton is home to the Waltzing Matilda Centre. Tragically this iconic outback museum was destroyed by fire two years ago but the good news is that it will reopen in April with a four-day music festival after a $22 million rebuild.
Hughenden and Charters Towers
The final part of our 2200km drive was through Hughenden where we stopped to visit “Hughie”, the seven metre-tall Muttaburrasaurus, and an impressive fossil collection at the Flinders Discovery Centre. Our last stop was at Charters Towers where there is plenty to occupy you for a full day and it was then only 120 km to Townsville.
Words: Len Rutledge. Pictures: Phensri Rutledge