Charleville to Mount Isa
Welcome to the Matilda Highway, a fully sealed stretch of road from the New South Wales border, all the way to the Gulf of Carpentaria. This is one road which most definitely leads to adventure, and a different one each day. The highway can be completed in as little of 24 hours, but that’s one heck of a drive and you’ll be missing out on the ‘real Outback’… that is, the people, the attractions and natural sites. Bus Queensland takes you along the Charleville to Cloncurry section of the highway.
Charleville to Blackall
Charleville is a town that is worth some serious attention. It has a history featuring early cameleers, Cobb & Co., and Qantas. It has one of Queensland's largest schools of the air and is a major home base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which services towns as far away as Birdsville in the state's far south-west. Experience the amazing Cosmos Centre, a small observatory that introduces you to the world beyond. Heading north of Charleville is Augathella. The pub in this town is the central social hub and a good place to hear about the exploits of the family of Kenniffs, the infamous bushrangers. On a more cultural note, local artists and artisans show off their latest creations at Boadicea Arts and Crafts. North of Augathella is Tambo, home to the famous Tambo Teddies, established during the years of low wool prices but still going strong and producing teddies adored by children everywhere. If time is short, settle for a stroll along the banks of the Barcoo and do the Coolibah Walk.
Roughly 100 kilometres north of Tambo you'll arrive at the 'home of the original black stump'. Heed not what other states claim, as locals descended from early identities such as Jackie Howe steadfastly stick to the belief that the Thistle Street stump is the genuine article. In 1892, Jackie set a world record near Blackall by shearing 321 sheep in seven hours and 40 minutes. He held that record for 58 years and when it was finally broken it was only by a shearer using machine shears, which were unheard of in Jackie's era. It's here that you will again greet the Barcoo River, which flows close to town. Keep count of how many times you cross the Barcoo on this trip, as local legend has it that after the tenth crossing you're there to stay. The Historic Blackall Woolscour was brought back to life by locals to become a major tourist attraction. Whilst it's open throughout the year, 'steam-up' is usually restricted to the months between May and September. Blackall was supposed to have the first artesian bore in the central west, only to be beaten to the punch by Barcaldine, just 109 kilometres further along the Matilda Highway.
Blackall to Barcaldine
Barcaldine is a town that makes for a great 'pub crawl': one of the benefits of having a designated (bus) driver. Each of the six pubs on the same side of the street are a tremendous example of nineteenth-century architecture. The town has a few other surprises including the Australian Worker's Heritage Centre. Set on five acres, this centre should keep you interested for a good couple of hours or longer. Make sure you also check out the 'Tree of Knowledge' in the main street, which is the founding site of the Australian Labor Party. Sadly, the tree was poisoned in 2006, but a fantastic memorial was built around the tree's stump. If you're travelling between Barcaldine and Ilfracombe during late August to early September, and the year's rainfall has been sufficient, the floral landscapes are spectacular. In Ilfracombe, old tractors, disused farm equipment and historic examples of rural machinery have been neatly laid out to rest, forming a virtual open-air street museum known as 'machinery mile'. Wander around town and visit the Wellshot hotel, take a dip in the artesian spa, see the corrugated iron Langenbaker Cottage and the Post Office, which claims to have been Australia's first motorised mail service.
Barcaldine to Longreach
The bustling town of Longreach came into prominence for visitors in 1988 when the Queen opened the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame. This modern centre is world-famous and warrants much more than just a casual glance. The entire history, adventure and essence of the Australian outback is rolled into one huge, diverse and informative display. Adding life to this western Queensland town are a number of other first-class attractions, namely the Qantas Founders Museum, with a decommissioned Boeing 747 Jet as its centrepiece. The School of Distance Education offers tours of its facility, which provides an education to students in a 1000 kilometre or more radius via satellite internet. The Longreach Pastoral College; the Longreach Power House Museum; and the Longreach Arts and Cultural Centre, in the old Ambulance Station, where locals display their arts and crafts, are also worth a visit. Various companies offer regular sunset cruises on the Thomson River, some in historic paddle steamers, with campfire meals and bush poetry thrown in. Hop aboard a Cobb and Co. coach for a tour of the town or head out to a real working sheep and cattle property to get a glimpse into life on the land.
Longreach to Winton
It's virtually impossible to arrive in Winton and not be humming or singing 'Waltzing Matilda'. After all, it is a national song and it's there at the original North Gregory Hotel in Winton where Banjo Paterson first publicly performed it. Not only is Banjo's song the best-known piece of Australiana on the world stage but it also gave rise to the world's only centre dedicated to a song. The Waltzing Matilda Centre gives many reasons to puff up the chest with a degree of Aussie pride. In town, and in holiday season, the town's local open-air picture theatre, The Royal, screens latest releases and also hosts a recently developed outback film festival that attracts film buffs from all over the country. This is also the town where the Qantas airline was born. The first general meeting of the airline was held at the Winton Club before operations moved to Longreach. The landscape between Winton and Cloncurry is undulating and open downs country but some 80 kilometres north of Winton you'll pass through Ayrshire Hills, an ancient weathered formation that look very much like the mesas from a spaghetti western. These isolated mesas back Kynuna to the west of the town.
Winton to Cloncurry
Head west along the Overlander's Way to Cloncurry, which Traveller.com.au says is one of the top 50 places to visit in Australia! It’s the birthplace of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which is as integral to outback survival today as it was when it serviced these remote outposts of Australia's vast inland when the Reverend John Flynn launched the flying medical service in the 1920s. Learn how he harnessed the emerging technology of the pedal radio to pioneer outback radio communication when visiting the John Flynn Place Museum and Art Gallery. On the theme of aviation, visit the original Qantas hangar where the first passenger flew from Longreach to Cloncurry in 1922. Cloncurry was named by explorer Robert O'Hara Burke and you can see his drink bottle at the Burke and Wills display in the Cloncurry Unearthed Museum at the Mary Kathleen Memorial Park, where you can learn about the former Mary Kathleen uranium mine. Other attractions include the Cloncurry Cemetery with graves dating back to the 1880s, the Court House, which was built in 1898, and Chinaman Creek Dam where you can swim, picnic and take in an outback sunset.
Cloncurry to Mount Isa
From Cloncurry, you leave the Matilda way and take the Overlander's Way, which winds through the spectacular Selwyn Ranges to Mount Isa. Mount Isa is outback Queensland's only city and offers a melting pot mix of culture, industry, history and nature. The town's major industries are mining and beef production, and visitors can experience both at the Outback at Isa visitor centre, home to the replica Hard Times Mine. Descend 22 metres underground to feel the earth move with the firing of the drill face and use real mining equipment. Outback at Isa also houses an outback park and the Riversleigh Fossil Centre. Join the resident palaeontologist on a lab tour to see exciting local fossil finds. Lake Moondarra, a few kilometres out of town, offers excellent barbecue facilities, swimming, fishing and a lookout. Before leaving Isa, call in to the School of the Air for a glimpse into classes conducted via satellite internet with students from remote communities and cattle stations. See the WW2 Underground Hospital, visit the National Trust Tent House, take a surface mine tour and see inside the Bureau of Meteorology.