MEG LAW hits the road to explore the remote towns of South West Queensland with her family
My husband at the wheel decked out in his favourite Akubra, my feet on the dashboard and a trail of red dust in the rear vision mirror. Our two kids in the back seat counting how many emus, cows and kangaroos they have seen on the journey. Our great Outback adventure feels like it’s off to a great start. We are ready to explore the remote towns of South West Queensland.
First up is a visit to the Insta-worthy Charlotte Plains. Located near Cunnamulla, it has private and public artesian springs and offers an insight into life on an Australian sheep station. We choose to stay in the basic shearing shed quarters, which is an easy eight-kilometre drive to Bore Head, where the public baths and campground are located. After many days of driving in our rattling old 4WD, a day spent relaxing and soaking off the dust in hot natural bore baths feels like five-star luxury.
Arriving at the site of the hot bore, you’d be forgiven for thinking it looks a bit ‘rough around the edges’, with water cascading out of two large old, rusty pipes. But it is the perfect Outback treat to soothe weary muscles. There are several outdoor bathtubs grouped together with water reaching 42°. We spend the afternoon splashing around with the kids, making new friends and canoeing along the shallows.
As the sun goes down over the vast dusty plains, we move over to the private hot tubs and soak in the mineral-rich water, with a glass of wine in our hands and a cheese platter. After some epic stargazing, we tuck the kids into their beds in the tiny tin sheds, pretending we are shearers and roustabouts.
Adavale Muster in the Mulga
Next up is bucking broncos, bulls, ropes and barrel racing. We arrive in the small town of Adavale, and are greeted by a sea of chaps, denim, checked shirts and cowboy hats. The bar is open, the beer is cold and the audience is ready to watch the cowboys and cowgirls in action. Yee haw! This grassroots country rodeo and camp draft (officially known as the Adavale Muster in the Mulga) occurs in April each year and attracts hundreds of rodeo fans from across the region and other states as they compete for the winning prize.
The kids quickly line up on the fence with the other mini rookies and cheer the best and bravest riders as they battle to stay on for that glorious eight second ride. If you’re new to rodeo like us, you’ll find yourself jumping out of your seat every 15 seconds. You can’t help but get swept up in the moment. The sheer magnitude and power of a bucking bull and the thrill of watching a cowboy or cowgirl rope a steer or leap off their horse with such co-ordination, strength and dexterity is not lost on the crowd.
With dust flying in every direction, spectators jump from their seat and shout their support, leaving us feeling like we are in an old wild west movie. Everyone should attend a rodeo at least once in their lifetime – even if it is just because you’ve always wanted a socially acceptable reason to wear a cowboy hat!
“My turn!” our youngest shouts as he hops out of the car to open and close yet another farm gate. We had arrived at Kilcowera Station, a large organically-run cattle station 1,200 kilometres west of Brisbane on the Dowling Track. As we drive up the track, we are greeted by the chaos of dogs barking and children waving and jumping, all eager to meet the new arrivals.
The kids fling open the car doors and race along the red soil to get acquainted with their new friends. Our son, Jasper, instantly takes a shining to their youngest boy, Gerry, with the two of them setting off in their gumboots into the shearing shed to check out the tractors and meet the animals.
The cattle station is managed by Stuart and Rosie Dodds, who have countless stories to share about the harsh realities of living so remotely and the passion they have for organic farming. Stu is the quintessential Australian cattleman that you read about in books, who isn’t afraid of hard yakka and has a deep love of the land. Rosie, the backbone of the business, is as stoic and honest as they come. Together, they raise ten children at the Station, homeschooling and managing the daily chores.
They actively encourage guests to join in with the daily activities across the station. Wildlife is abundant in the area, so they tell us not to be too surprised if we spot the odd kangaroo or snake ambling about.
We spend our days watching the sun rise over the lagoon, walking through Currawinya National Park, listening to the sound of tractors and cattle mooing in the distance. The kids run around covered in mud with their new friends, before we gather to stargaze under ‘big sky country’ at night. The kids get to learn firsthand what no book, school, town or city could ever teach.
Outback pubs Noccundra Hotel and Toompine Pub
It wouldn’t be a visit to the Outback without stopping in at the classic Aussie pubs along the way. Noccundra Hotel, which was built in the 1880s of mud brick, is a shining example. When we arrive at the pub, which is around 142 kilometres west of Thargomindah along the Adventure Way, we laugh with the publican about how our family of four outnumbers the town’s population, which is three.
We later visit the Toompine Pub, jokingly known as ‘the pub with no town’ to devour some delicious food and have a great chat with the locals. Tiny Toompine is barely a blip on the radar and yet all roads seem to lead here. And according to the kids, it serves the best chicken nuggets and chips in the Outback!
Other Outback pubs that are worth checking out on the South West Queensland route are Nindigully Pub, Hotel Cunnamulla, Eulo Queen Hotel and the Royal Mail Hotel in Hungerford.
Eromanga Natural History Museum
What kid doesn’t get excited about dinosaurs? A visit to Eromanga Natural History Museum is essential when you visit this part of the world. The kids love learning about the processes around digging and discovering fossils right through to preserving them. The highlight is seeing Cooper, Australia’s largest dinosaur and one of the largest dinosaur skeletons in the world. Our youngest is also a big fan of Zac, who is one of Australia’s most complete sauropods with more than 60 bones discovered so far. Leaving Eromanga, armed with a walkie talkie, chisel and rock hammer, it is clear we have a new palaeontologist in the family!
Family-friendly fun in South West Queensland
We are blown away by how many fun things there are to do with kids in South West Queensland. During our road trip we also visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s Charleville base, tour the nocturnal house at Charleville Bilby Experience, and climb Baldy Top Lookout in Quilpie. We pass fields of white cotton-like-snow, explore the silo art trail and even try our hand at fossicking for opals. We swim in rivers and remote waterholes, climb the Big Rig tower to learn about the town’s oil mining history in Roma, and witness a magical sunset cruise on the Balonne River in St George.
Sitting around a campfire on the last night, with the warmth flickering against our faces, we swap stories, gaze up at the stars and tip our hats to our great Aussie adventure.