Mount Isa to Brisbane via Blackall

In November I drove from Mount Isa to Brisbane via Winton. A few weeks later I was back down the same road heading back to Brisbane for Christmas, again taking two days to do the 1900km drive, but this time stopping at Blackall overnight. This first photo is of the Blue Heeler Hotel in Kynuna, 160km north of Winton. The historic little timber building can trace its existence back to the 1880s when it was a Cobb and Co post. Thirsty travellers still seek out its wares, though it was shut as I drove past mid-morning.

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After a long stretch of flat country south of Cloncurry it was good to see some hills again north of Winton. These mesa-like structures remind me of the American west.

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Recent rains means there is plenty of grass so the cattle are well fed and fat again in the West. The two to three year drought was broken by heavy falls across the region.

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A brief glimpse of the Boeing 747 at the Qantas Founders Museum as I drove past Longreach. The Museum tells the story of the founders of Qantas and the 747 is pride of place. All Qantas Boeing 747-400 aircraft carry the word “Longreach” as part of the livery as well as their city name, signifying the “long reach” of the aircraft and the town where Qantas commenced operations.

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Just 27km east of Longreach is Ilfracombe. This tiny town is home to the 100-year-old Wellshot Hotel, one of the most famous pubs in the outback (I stayed a raucous night there in 2002) and also the Ilfracombe Machinery and Heritage Museum which has artifacts dotted along the side of the road, known as The Great Machinery Mile. The Museum is home to everything from standing engines to earthmoving machinery and illustrates the evolution of the pastoral and transport industries.

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About halfway between Longreach and Barcaldine I stumbled upon the appropriately named Christmas Creek. I felt very festive in this part of Tinseltown.

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I spent the night in Blackall which at 900km to Mount Isa and 1000km to Brisbane is the closest town to the halfway mark. Blackall is the biggest town in the central west, developed on the sheep’s back. I visited the Woolscour, too late for the last tour of the day but I was able to roam the grounds for free. The Woolscour operated commercially from 1908 to 1978 and was restored in 1989 by the Blackall Historical Woolscour Association. The plant has the only intact steam-powered wool washing plant left in Australia.

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Blackall’s association with wool is underscored by Australia’s most famous shearer Jackie Howe. In 1892 at a property outside Blackall, Howe shore a record of 321 sheep in 7 hours 40 minutes. A memorial statue is located outside Blackall’s Universal Garden Centre in Shamrock St. Inside is a gallery, with a historic display, relating to Howe and local history. Howe was a committed trade unionist and active during the shearer strikes of 1891 and 1894. After he died in 1920, Queensland Premier T. J. Ryan wrote a telegram to Howe’s widow, “I have lost a true and trusted friend and Labor has lost a champion”.

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There wasn’t much water in the evocatively named Barcoo River when I went to check it out in Blackall. The first white explorer in the region, Sir Thomas Mitchell, gave it a different name when he arrived in 1846, calling it the Victoria, after Britain’s monarch. This was because Mitchell thought the north-flowing stream might be a “river leading to India”, in other words, cross the northern part of the continent before emptying into the Indian Ocean as the “Victoria River” already named in the Northern Territory. Mitchell’s second-in-command Edmund Kennedy later followed the course of the river, finding it turned abruptly south-west and ending up in the Lake Eyre Basin. Kennedy renamed it the Aboriginal word Barcoo.

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I was greeted by a moody and beautiful dawn the following morning as I set off south on the second half of my journey down the Landsborough Highway.

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About halfway between Blackall and Tambo I crossed the Wild Dog Barrier Fence. The fence was built in the 1880s to keep dingoes out of the south-east part of the continent to protect the sheep flocks of southern Queensland. It is one of the longest structures in the world and is the world’s longest fence. It stretches 5614 km east to west from Jimbour on the Darling Downs near Dalby ending west of Eyre peninsula on the Nullarbor Plain at Nundroo, South Australia. It has not been completely successful at keeping out the dingoes but is still regularly maintained.

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After 12 hours of driving I arrived in Brisbane. I was reminded again that evening of the festive season as I walked down the Queen St Mall right in to the middle of a Christmas pageant and parade. I didn’t hang around with the Gingerbread Man and the elves for long being very thirsty after two days in the saddle and very much ready to “bend the arm”. Cheers.

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