It wasn’t until we returned from our trip to western Queensland that we discovered our neighbours had been talking about us: ‘Two women and two kids in outback Queensland? Towing a camper trailer with a sedan? They’ll come to grief for sure!’
Of course, we didn’t come to grief. Instead, we had the best family holiday ever – a holiday dominated by dinosaurs, gems, sunshine, red dust and a hunt for Queensland’s best milkshake.
Our first challenge was to convince the children (two boys, aged 11 and 9) that this was a holiday worth taking. They weren’t keen on the thought of hours in the car, no wi-fi, and ‘boring’ museums.
When our sales pitch about dinosaurs and gems didn’t work, we used the ‘you don’t have a choice’ approach. They soon accepted their fate. We were less than 24-hours into the trip when they realised that this was going to be FUN! Within days they were describing it as the ‘best holiday ever’.
This was to be our first touring holiday!
Some of my pre-trip worries had focused on the roads. I had worried about endless, straight roads with narrow strips of bitumen surrounded by soft dust. I had worried about other vehicles pressuring me to drive fast and huge road trains lumbering past at speed and forcing me off the road. Plenty of people told me that I should be worried about kangaroos and emus – both dead and alive.
My worries were ill-conceived: the roads were amazing. Yes, they were straight and disappeared into a hazy mirage. Yes, there were road trains – plenty of them. And of course we saw kangaroos and emus (and scavenging birds, pigs, sheep, cattle, goats and brolgas). But the roads were smooth, wide and fast. Most were newly resurfaced.
With the exception of a small stretch to the north of Winton, the roads were wide enough for me to pass road trains, and any other vehicle, in comfort.
We left Brisbane and I started to relax once we reached Toowoomba – when the traffic and the range were both behind me.
Our first stop was the Army Flying Museum at Oakey. It was perfect for two boys with a bent for history with its collection of early planes and army dress-up clothes.
We spent our first night at the Chinchilla Tourist Park and we visited the local museum with its lovely collection of old buildings. Next, the Cosmos Centre and Observatory in Charleville helped to inspire the boys’ ongoing interest in space.
One of our favourite stops was at Morven, between Roma and Charleville – the town’s outdoor displays were a standout. The huge steam tractor dominated the street but it was the kerosene-tin hut that captivated us all – a tiny hut made from flattened kerosene tins, and one of several huts in the region that people lived in during the 1930s depression. What a great reminder of how just privileged we are.
Barcaldine was cold and windy, and we regretted our decision to only stay one night. There was something about the town that begged us to linger.
The Tree of Knowledge is astonishing – perhaps more iconic in its death than it can have been in life.
The dinosaur trail
Winton might be the beginning of dinosaur country, but in Winton it’s Banjo Patterson who rules. Everything seems to be named either ‘Matilda’ or ‘Banjo’.
We visited the Waltzing Matilda Centre and we played the musical fence. I even managed an acceptable rendition of Waltzing Matilda on the fence itself.
Richmond wins our vote for the best town visited. We loved the atmosphere of the town and its dinosaur theming – from the dinosaur signs that drew us towards the town, right down to the ichthyosaur-covered rubbish bins.
On the drive between Hughenden and Longreach, we stopped off at Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum just outside Winton. I was dubious before our visit: the name sounded to me like a hollow attempt at over-marketing. But the place had us captivated.
We went on a 40-minute lab tour led by a field palaeontologist, and couldn’t get enough of his conversation about annual digs and plaster-encased finds waiting to be worked on in the lab.
Around Longreach and where we found the best milkshakes!
By the time we reached Longreach, the heat, dust, and glare were starting to taking their toll on us city folk. We knew that Longreach would be hot and dry, and it delivered big time.
For us, the highlights were Kinnon & Co. (the stage coach ride was a winner), the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, the Qantas Founders Museum (with a guided tour of two retired aircraft), and the School of the Air.
Longreach won our award for the best milkshake in Queensland (and the best coffee of our trip); the Outback Gallery Cafe in Eagle Street had it all – great food, excellent drinks, friendly service, an appealing gallery and air-conditioning.
The gemfields and how we wasted our money
From Longreach, we headed east to Sapphire – another world that was more like a frontier settlement that a town in 21st century Queensland. Cattle and horses roamed the streets and we discovered that Sapphire is part of a common, and people mark their mining claim with a shack or caravan because permanent structures are not permitted.
We went on a short tour through one of Sapphire’s underground mines. Tour is the wrong word: it was a 10-minute wander through tunnels and a brief chat from a teenager about how the mine used to operate. It cost an astonishing $57 for the four of us, and was the only part of our trip that was a complete waste of money.
Back to the coast
Driving into Tannum Sands was like arriving in another world – it was lovely to walk along the waterfront and feel the sea breeze after the dust and dryness of the inland.
We moved on to Bargara for two nights and visited two great Bundaberg sites – the Bundaberg Ginger Beer Factory, and the Bond Store (home of Bundaberg Rum). Both offered tours and taste tests. I did wonder whether we were sensible to take two children on a tour that glorified rum, but the boys seemed more interested in the science of manufacture and storage than the alcohol.
Our last day was a big day of travelling. We were on the road by 7.00am, and drove straight through Gympie, and ended up stopping in Caboolture – long overdue.
Getting home from holidays is always bitter-sweet. I like returning to my routine, and I always feel ready to get on with my life at the end of a holiday.
But there’s also a sense of regret that the adventure is over and the realities of life have to return.
How we have changed
Now we watch the Queensland news with real interest and a sense of connection. We keep track of the rain. We shudder when the Longreach temperature reaches 44. We do our best to buy Queensland-grown produce. We smile sweetly when anyone suggests that towing a camper with a sedan might not be a good idea.
And we tell everyone who will listen that a holiday in western Queensland is an experience that rivals any overseas holiday.