Barcaldine

My itinerary for today had been planned around picking up another part of the Dinosaur Trail suggested itinerary by driving east to Prairie and then south via Kooroorinya Falls and Muttaburra to Barcaldine. I was aware that the road from Prairie to Muttaburra was gravel and, after our excursion to Lark Quarry, I did a little more research on road conditions. As a consequence I revised the itinerary to use the road from Torrens Creek via Aramac to Barcaldine. It had just 35 km of gravel with the rest sealed and the bonus opportunity to visit more national parks for Majella’s project.

By 8:00 am we had topped up fuel in Hughenden and were on the road east toward Torrens Creek with Majella driving. Our plan was to go about 20 km beyond Torrens Creek to visit the Burra Range Lookout on the edge of White Mountain National Park and then double back to head south from Torrens Creek.

The road east ran through countryside that mostly looked well covered with grass and we did see a few cattle along the way. We had seen wind turbines on a hill outside Hughenden when we arrived on Sunday and this road took us closer to them. Neither of us recalled seeing them yesterday when it was windy but we had gone north to Porcupine Gorge and away from them. We had seen them each other day but had never seen any motion. Perhaps they are recently installed and waiting to be commissioned. Soon after we passed them we passed a large solar farm. Given the prevailing sunny dry climate here and the expanses of bare soil we have seen, solar farms would seem better placed in this region than on fertile agricultural land elsewhere.

A few km east of Torrens Creek, as we drove along the edge of the national park, we spotted a variety of bright blossoms. We stopped at the Burra Range Lookout to take in the view. It was signed as part of the Great Dividing Range with an altitude of 550 m. The lookout was on a sandstone platform with views over a valley with some steep cliffs visible.

On the way back toward Torrens Creek we stopped at a turnoff to see some of the blossoms at closer quarters. There were several different species of plant in bloom – orange and red grevilleas,  pale yellow callistemons, and more.

We were pleasantly surprised when we turned south from Torrens Creek to see a sign about progressive sealing of the road and enjoyed a few km of sealed road before we hit the gravel. It was solid and rough in places but not as badly corrugated as the road to Lark Quarry. The gravel continued until about 35 km out of Torrens Creek where we found dual lane bitumen. The rest of the road to Barcaldine was sealed though sometimes bumpy and often narrowed to a single lane. Later while I was driving we encountered one road train for which we were pleased to have gotten off the road since its third trailer was swinging wildly.

We found the signage for Moorrinya National Park a bit after 10:00 am. We stopped soon after to have coffee and change drivers. The road runs along the edge of the park which had been grazing land until it was gazetted as a park to assist with conservation of a variety of native species of plants and animals. We could see grass and trees typical of the desert uplands region in which it sits. Later, as I drove further south, we passed an entrance to the park which gives access to a camping area about 16 km from the road but we did not venture that far.

We had seen a few drops of rain on the windscreen occasionally since leaving Torrens Creek and thought we had seen showers in the distance. We came upon a long stretch of road with puddles from recent showers and encountered a couple of showers as we drove on.

Despite the region being described as desert uplands, most of the country we had seen driving south from Torrens Creek seemed well grassed and there were occasional ponds with water visible to the side of the road. We missed any signage for the Forest Den National Park which is about 100 km north of Aramac. We had hoped to add it to our list but when I thought we should be close and stopped to check the map I discovered we had already passed it. We drove on south.

Just beyond that point we drove through well grassed plains consistent with the Mitchell Grass plains the Forest Den NP is intended to preserve. We noticed a wire net fence on the left side of the road that spanned many km and multiple properties. We surmised that it must be intended to exclude wild dogs. 

About 50 km north of Aramac the countryside became more desolate in appearance. It had been dry everywhere but for about 30 km there was scarcely a blade of grass to be seen on either side of the road and often no other vegetation either. Some areas looked like there had been some effort to cultivate the land but mostly it seemed barren and abandoned. If the necessary transmission infrastructure were installed it might be better used for solar farms.

Aramac itself seemed a nice small town. We stopped at a parking place near the entrance to town and ate lunch there. I wandered across the road for some photos of a group of emus. I got the photos and a muddy boot when I stepped in an area that had been watered recently. The wet soil was soft and sticky and I sank about 50 cm into it before I could escape.

On the way out of Aramac we saw a sign to the ‘white bull’ which was a moderate sized white statue of a bull in the main street. That helped to explain the several smaller statues of white bulls we had seen with ‘fancibull’ names. As we drove out again we saw a sign to the Aramac Tramway Museum and spent some time there looking at memorabilia of the community funded railway that ran from Barcaldine to Aramac from 1913 to 1975.

Majella drove us into Barcaldine where we checked in at Roses ‘n’ Things van park and then drove out to explore the town. On advice from Jason at the van park we first booked for dinner at Barcaldine Country Motor Inn. 

We followed a sign to the history museum but parked before we found it, saw the Australian Workers Heritage Centre and made our way around the block to the entrance. We spent about an hour there, working through the various displays. They were mostly related to the history of unionism, especially the shearers’ strikes of 1891 and 1894 and the political flow on. There would be value in some of our current Labor politicians visiting to refresh their memories of what the ALP should stand for in improving the lot of working people. One element of the display is the Young’un, a clone of the original Tree of Knowledge planted there to ensure its heritage is preserved.

Majella had a recollection that her paternal grandfather had been stationed in Barcaldine as a police officer when Vince took Dulcie to meet his parents. Her story was that grandfather had locked Dulcie in the watch house, whether to ensure she did not escape or to keep her away from Vince we don’t know. We looked in the display building which is actually from Toogoolawah but his name did not appear in the list of officers who had served in Barcaldine (perhaps the story was misremembered and actually from Blackall where he did serve) but Majella spotted a P Kinnane, probably her paternal great grandfather, Patrick, who was listed as being at Barcaldine in 1910.

From there we drove the short distance toward Longreach looking for Lagoon Creek which was signed as a tourist attraction. There was no access or parking from the main road so we doubled back and down a nearby street. Near the entrance to the parkland was a fenced enclosure protecting a sand dune which marks the edge of the desert uplands and is culturally significant to both indigenous and settlers. There were several kangaroos among the long grass in the enclosure so we did not go in but walked a short distance along a path by the creek before heading back to the van park to wait for dinner time.

We enjoyed our dinner – gum nut burger (decorated with eucalyptus leaves) for Majella and rump steak for me. I was pleased I had ordered the half rump rather than the full because the portion was very generous. I finished my dinner but Majella’s defeated her. After dinner we drove to the Tree of Knowledge to see it under lights. It was well lit but not as impressively as the photograph we had seen this afternoon. We headed back to park the van for the night.