‘The Isa’ is one of the state’s longest-running mining towns and a travel and lifestyle hub for central Queensland. At night the surrounding cliffs glow and zing with industry. The proud locals share the dusty heat and geographic isolation – often over multiple beers – and the sense of community is palpable.
This prosperous outback town was the home of Qantas early last century, but these days it’s equally famous for the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame & Outback Heritage Centre, one of outback Queensland’s biggest attractions. The Tropic of Capricorn passes through Longreach, and so do more than a million sheep and cattle.
It’s pioneer days at 40 paces on main-street Winton, a cattle and sheep centre that dishes up tasty tourist cheese by the swagful. While the period charms may be forced, they’re also mighty infectious. A short visit will have you happy-snapping at the heritage buildings and brushing up on your bush poetry.
Barcaldine (Bar-call-din) is a colourful little pub town at the junction of the Landsborough and Capricorn Hwys (Rte 66), 108km east of Longreach. The town gained a place in Australian history in 1891 when it became the headquarters of a major shearers’ strike. The confrontation led to the formation of the Australian Workers’ Party, which is now the Australian Labor Party.
Simpson Desert National Park
The waterless Simpson Desert occupies a massive 200,000 sq km of central Australia and stretches across the Queensland, NT and SA borders. The Queensland section, in the state’s far southwestern corner, is protected as the 10,000-sq-km Simpson Desert National Park, and is a remote, arid landscape of high red sand dunes, spinifex and cane grass.
Lying 760km west of Brisbane, Charleville is the grand old dame of central Queensland and the largest town in Mulga country. Due largely to its prime locale on the Warrego River, the town was an important centre for early explorers – Cobb & Co had its largest coach-making factory here – but the town has maintained its prosperity as a major Australian wool centre.
The unofficial ‘capital’ of the Channel Country is a neat little outpost on the cusp of the great Simpson Desert. It’s from here that the world’s longest mail run comes to an end, some 3000km from Port Augusta in South Australia. In mid-July, Boulia hosts Australia’s premier camel-racing event, the Desert Sands Camel Races.
Lying 121km east of Mt Isa, the ‘Curry’ was the birthplace of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). In the 19th century Cloncurry was the largest producer of copper in the British Empire. Today it’s a busy pastoral centre with a reinvigorated mining industry. It’s also the home of Bob Katter, a colourful and parochial politician who recently founded his own political party.
From Boulia it’s 200km of mainly unsealed road south to Bedourie, the administrative centre for the huge Diamantina Shire Council. A big attraction is the free public swimming pool and artesian spa. The charming adobe-brick Bedourie Hotel was built in the 1880s and is a social hub for the region. There are very cosy motel rooms out the back.