DSC_0230The road to Boulia from Cawnpore Lookout.

DSC_0213Heading towards Boulia we stopped at a lookout or two before pulling into town.  We were greeted by three emus on the main street median strip and later witnessed two dogs chasing a kangaroo at full tilt bounding down one of the side streets. Finally here is the town that Americans dream of.


After a quick set up and lunch at the local CP we headed to the Stonehouse, home to some ancient fossilised dinosaurs.


Plesiosaur and ichthyosaur, which ploughed the inland sea around here in the early cretaceous about 100 million years ago, are both represented with remarkably complete skeletons. Like Winton, these are real, and not the ubiquitous casts normally seen in museums.  Apart from the Emus in the main street, other entertainment was the local library, the last of our free ‘swap and go’ Queensland libraries. The ability to borrow books or DVD’s and return them to another rural library is an excellent initiative that we wished we knew about during our five months in WA.

With all to see in Boulia ticked off in one afternoon we planned to head off the next morning after topping up on fuel and a few groceries, our Queensland leg completed.  We are heading west across the Plenty Hwy to the Red Centre travelling along part of “Australia’s longest shortcut” most of which is dirt road – wish us luck!


After lunch and some whip cracking practice we headed out along the Donohue Hwy towards Boulia.  The drive was interesting with vast empty plains interspersed with low rocky hills.  A few hours down the road Jules spotted a particularly photogenic shack just 8 kms out of Middleton – so we just had to stop whilst camera and tripod were set up.



A few minutes later we pulled into the “Hotel Hilton” which advertised on a hand painted sign – ‘No room service, No Pool, No WiFi, No Air Conditioning, No Grass, Vacancy’.  Basically a patch of dust over the road from the Middleton pub, population three, which had its origins as Cobb & Co stop No. 4 on the regular service to Boulia. After an obligatory XXXX and a Somersby pear cider (who’dve guessed?) for only $11 (cheaper than at the Junction Hotel at home!) and a $5 donation to the RFDS the toilets and shower were ours to use for the duration. Perfect.


J – the pub’s proprietor, Lester, said the Cobb & Co coach out the front is the genuine article, dated at 1898 from the axle stamp.

DSC_0200Practice makes perfect. Although the result was bad blisters.


J – I asked Lester about the shack, he asked me how old I thought it was ‘Oh, about 80 years’ I said, knowing straight away I was wrong. ‘Nuh, 3 months’ corrected Lester – it was built as a set for the film Goldstone. 

The boys took off to photograph the shack at sunset while I got dinner going.  I found the view from the kitchen otherworldly.


It was a very, very quiet night with no passing traffic, no insect sounds, no generators and no animals or birds.  Just the moon and stars and a strange ringing in my ears from the silence.

DSC_0178New meets old.



On the road to Winton. Even the trucks are bigger – four trailers on this one.


We had decided to free camp just east of our first Winton tourist attraction “the Age of Dinosaurs” so it was only a short drive next morning to make the 9am tour.  Our camp, a well-appointed rest stop was pretty peaceful until a truck with a refrigerated trailer pulled up.  Think loud generator all night and noisy engines first thing in the morning.  Oh well, win some and lose some.


No trains on the tracks, just a few road trains thundering past.

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum was perched up on a mesa (table top plateau) with great views of the surrounding countryside – beautiful despite being very brown.  The first part of the tour was at the laboratory and focused on how they found and dug up the fossils and bones and then how the landscape looked 95 million years ago.  Think 100m tall conifers with a fern-like understory (remembering grass hadn’t evolved then) and the banks of rivers leading to the huge inland sea. Then it was over to the collection room to see the finished bones and models of the three dinosaurs they’ve found in this region. The most complete is Australovenator, Winton’s equivalent of the velociraptor from ‘Jurassic Park’ and nicknamed “Banjo”.



Then it was into Winton proper to try and grab somewhere to stay. Ordinarily this would not have posed any problem at all but given this was the start of  their biannual “Outback festival” week things were bound to be tight.  Our back up were unpowered sites a few kilometers out of town out at the showground. We spotted this on the way into town and even at a distance this dust bowl did not look appealing.  Luckily for us there had been a cancellation at a caravan park right in the town centre mere metres away from the festival action.  Our thinking was the convenience would outweigh the noisiness – it did but only just!

DSC_0101Winton – home of Banjo’s famous Waltzing Matilda.

Our first day was spent 110 km out of town at the Dinosaur Stampede – a collection of over 3300 95 million year old footprints preserved in the siltstone under an iron oxide layer. Only an improbably lucky sequence of perfect events occurred to preserve this brief moment of mere minutes in the mid cretaceous.


In the evening we watched Tania Kernaghan sing songs with local school kids as well as forget the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda – penned here by Banjo Patterson in 1895, then it was an indigenous group moving seamlessly from corroboree dancing to Singing in the Rain, Bollywood boogie, Michael Jackson and everything in between. Odd but entertaining.


James smashes it up at Winton’s Musical Fence – complete with tongue (for balance).

P1070751Festival fun!DSC_0073DSC_0084DSC_0089DSC_0063


On our last day, Jules went out to Bladensburg National Park for a tag along photography tour whilst the boys and I enjoyed the festival. The best entertainment was on the morning we were due to leave. The army was giving rides in their armored personnel transport, The Roulettes flew into town to put on an aerial show, and Nathan Griggs, our whip cracking champion first seen in Mataranka, managed to sell Jules a stock whip! Both boys are now proficient.


Perfect subjects from the tag-along photographic tour around Bladensburg NP.



Heading west from Jericho, the landscape dried out very quickly.  We are now in drought country, all seven years of it apparently.  We had heard fellow travelers talking about the road kill out here being thick on the ground and they were not exaggerating.  Roo after roo littered the road edge all in varying states of decay, interspersed with the odd feral pig, emu and sheep.  Luckily we had Harry Potter to distract us from the carnage outside (For the record we are now half way through Half Blood Prince. I wonder where we’ll be when we finish the lot?).

First stop was Barcaldine to visit the Tree of Knowledge and maybe treat ourselves to morning tea at a bakery.  Luckily for us Barcaldine was hosting a gardening expo to celebrate the opening of their new Info Centre.  There was music by the school band and a variety of stalls which meant not only a morning coffee but home made carrot cake, jam and relish to boot.  As well as a  collection of locally made glass creations which were too cute to pass up. With all that retail therapy under our belts we walked up to the Tree of Knowledge monument.


This unassuming tree out the front of Barcaldine Railway station is said to be where disgruntled shearers first got together to form a union that lead to the formation of the Labour Party in 1891.  Unfortunately someone poisoned the original tree in 2006 but the town managed to retain it and build a massive sculpture around it.  It really is huge and amazingly impressive and must have cost a fortune to build (I’m assuming the labour party funded it!).


The sculpture was made from suspended wooden sleepers cut at angles to mimic the original tree canopy as well as old fashioned shearing blades.


Further west we made an unplanned stop at Ilfracombe after spotting a collection of old machinery lining the main drag.  Machinery was not the only thing collected in this tiny town.  There were collections of over 16,000 bottles, 41,000 buttons, rifles, hub caps, scissors, power line insulators, beer cans and even a Nazi flag to name a few – from left field there was a complete Ichthyosaur skull as well. It’s amazing what you find in these old towns.

DSC_9648DSC_9650P1070655Pulling a Furphy on the main street of Ilfracombe. It’s not a rumour. 

Longreach was only another 30kms up the road, where the first thing spotted is the disproportionately large Qantas 747 tail fin. We decided to call in on our way to camp to book into tomorrow’s tour and see how long we might need there. An hour and a half later we dragged the boys away with promises we would be returning tomorrow. It must have been the guides quiet words “just inside on the left is our flight simulator”.


The boys were entranced by this life-sized flight simulator. In Flanders fields.


We enjoyed a somewhat peaceful night out at Longreach’s Apex River Park on the banks of the Thompson River. Pity about the crowd of eight or so roosters hanging around, all of whom welcomed in the new day from 3am onwards. One cranky old nomad declared the afternoon before that he had already taken one out with his slingshot!

DSC_9690A more welcome bird at Apex Park. The closest I’ve been to a Brolga.

We were up away in time to fit in a trip to the bakery “Yeast 2 West” (how could we resist with such a cool name) for some croissants and sourdough before our 9:30am Jet Tour at the Qantas Founders Museum. The tour took us through a retired 747-200 and a restored 707 (the first jet engine plane to be bought into Australia by Qantas).


DSC_9735DSC_9721DSC_9736All very interesting. After exploring the Catalina flying boat and with more time on the flight simulator, we finally tore the boys away after midday to head off towards Winton.  What a busy 24 hours!


We’ll drive anywhere for a bit of shade.


Just a short drive from Emerald is another semi precious gem of a place, Ruby Vale (just a hop, skip and a jump north of Sapphire). We parked at the Miners Heritage, a school excursion of sorts involving a walk-in sapphire mine that we toured before concluding with a spot of fossicking – looking for those elusive bits of blue. In fact, it turns out that sapphire in fact comes in all colours, from blue to yellow to almost clear and even to red, more commonly known as ruby. We found quite a few in our $20 bucket of wash, including match head sized ones to a centimetre sized low quality sapphire. All quite exciting, especially for the boys. As another tourist on the mine tour quipped ‘gem fossickers are a different kind of crazy’. After the quite extraordinary experience we had at the Chambers of the Black Hand underground opal mine in Lighting Ridge last year, this one got a C minus from me.

Leaving The Gemfields and heading towards Longreach, we had a few choices for camping, including Alpha, which Sam said had tons of petrified wood. I asked what were the trees scared of? We decided instead on a free camp at Jericho. Clean loos, a view of the river (with water) and no bugs. Perfect.