There’s nowhere quite like Brisbane on a perfect mid-afternoon. The river winks at you, the fig trees raise their mighty trunks a little taller, buskers provide the music and a gentle breeze then carries the notes across the river to cheer up the ears.
Sheesh. That’s got to be enough to drive you out of there.
And head west – 1100km west along the Warrego Highway the Bulloo Shire. Here’s how you do it.
Ninety minutes’ drive west of Brisbane is Toowoomba, capital of the Western Downs and home to classic pubs, national parks and plenty of authentic country experiences, from cattle herding to campfires and fabulous fishing spots.
It’s here you’ll find things like country fairs, agriculture shows, museums and galleries. You’ll also find great places to toss a line and snare a yellowbelly, and perfect picnic spots full of gourmet surprises. Toowoomba is hailed for its cracking good Devonshire teas, which makes it the perfect spot to slather full-cream butter onto a freshly made scone and soak in the cool country air.
All roads lead to Roma
For years, Roma has been billed as the beef capital of Australia, a place where great steeds are energetically auctioned under the hot Queensland sun before the whole town saunters off to a local pub, to slump under a verandah and tuck into steaks as big as a plate.
Today, Roma has plenty to offer the modern day visitor, and despite the town’s economic switch from meat growing to gas production, the past still plays a major role. And the pubs remain the hub of the action.
Cattle auctions are still held twice a week at the Bungil Cattle Yards just outside town and are as spectacular as ever to watch. For the traveler on a budget, the good news is they are also free.
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning bovine as big as a farmer’s ute are trucked in from the Northern Territory and South Australia and auctioned – via a staccato of numbers and nods – by weight. The volume of sales varies each time, but up to 6000 head of cattle can be transferred in any given day, some going for as little as $2.00 a kilo for an entire pen of heifers.
Depending on the size and age, the cattle are taken to their new homes for breeding purposes or fattened up for resale.
It seems as if everything in Roma has a history. The Avenue of Heroes is a heritage-listed street shaded by 93 bottle trees that form a tribute to local soldiers who lost their lives in World War One. It is believed that the first bottle tree – a common species in the region – was planted outside the post office in 1918 to commemorate the loss of a local lad, Lt Cpl Norman Saunders, who was killed in France.
Then there’s Romavilla, Queensland’s oldest winery and a producer of table and fortified wines since 1863. The sandy loamy soil and lack of irrigation may cause low grape yields, but what is harvested, comes with an unexpected concentration of flavours. It’s said by locals, that if you close your eyes, you can almost taste the Outback in every drop.
Go where the stars shine
Enough of the earth, it’s time to aim for the stars and hit the Warrego Highway and tiny towns of Mitchell and Morven and then on to Charleville, the heart of the mulga country and some say, the centre of the universe.
The first thing you will notice about Charleville is the air. It’s different – there’s a certain crispness to it that you just don’t get in the city – and when the sun sets, the clear night sky becomes one of the best spots on the planet to see the sky filled ceiling.
No surprise then that Charleville is also home to the Cosmos Centre, a place where you can take an astronomical journey across the vast night sky using one of the three Meade, super powerful telescopes, while experienced guides unravel the secrets of the universe. Their enthusiasm is infectious as they tell stories from light years away and place in your hand a remarkably heavy space rock that’s tumbled all the way to earth.
If you’re looking for a place to stay near town, tow the van to the Evening Star Tourist Park, a 33,000 hectare working cattle station owned by the Debney family since 1892. Chances are you will be greeted by the smell of an outback snag wafting from the wood-fired BBQs, and the opportunity to get an insight into the life of the grazier. There’re even self-contained cabins for those who prefer a bit more comfort with the outback creatures.
With the Warrego behind you, your next target is Cunnamulla and the search for a certain statue.
‘The Cunnamulla Fella’, sitting in the centre of town, is a bronze Outback icon created in the form of the Aussie larrikin. The true identity of the young station hand has never been discovered, although locals have their own ideas as to whom Slim Dusty was referring in his classic song – The Cunnamulla Fella. Needless, the statue has generated an entire annual festival, with three days of bull riding, live country music and a country carnival atmosphere.
Anyone heading to Cunnamulla should also put Eulo on the map. This tiny town with a population of 60 really knows how to show you a “clean” time.
First stop is the Eulo Date Farm and Winery to try the fresh and chewy dates. Owner Ian Pike runs through their amazing range of products – including perfume-free date moisturizer. The dates are ridiculously delicious, but it is the mud baths that beckon.
At the back of the winery are four refurbished claw baths waiting to be used. It may seem slightly surreal to be sitting in what can only be described as a hot mud bath in the middle of Outback Queensland. Even more so when you have a platter of cheese and dates in one hand and a goblet of delicious date wine in the other – perfection!
Once in the Outback, you can’t go past the local pub for stories and characters, so head to the Eulo Queen Hotel named after Isabel Robinson, a woman who made and lost a fortune in opals and owned several hotels in Eulo during the late 1800s. Renowned for her numerous marriages and run-ins with the law, Isabel became a rebellious legend and the mystery of her missing fortune in opals and jewels is still unsolved.
In the meantime, this is the Outback. And the beer is crisp and inviting!