PUBS, MUD AND THE OUTBACK
Explore the Adventure Way and discover another magic trail in Australia’s outback
WORDS BY GLENN MARSHALL PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROBERT CAMERIERE
The road that leads you deep into the Queensland outback, where the sky is bigger and the colours brighter, is just a single lane. You will see the road in front of you disappear into a watery mirage and the treeless plains stretch to the horizon. The sand dunes that rise from the flatness are vibrant; the ghost gums distinctively white against the orange background.
This desolate road takes you from Cunnamulla on the Mitchell Highway to Innamincka in the far reaches of South Australia and is known as the Adventure Way. The pace out here is slow, so take your time and enjoy what is on offer. The view from your window changes constantly; you don’t want to miss a thing.
Fuelling up the Avida Esperance in Cunnamulla, Rob and I hit the Adventure Way. Once we had crossed the Warrego River, we instantly felt a part of the magical outback. Recent rains had promoted fresh growth on the black-soiled floodplains that stretched as far as the eye could see.
In good seasons, this is a prime region for sheep and cattle grazing so always keep an eye out for roaming stock on the road: there aren’t many fences out this way. Also give way when you see a road train coming towards you. Pull right off the road and stop to allow them to pass without incident – and don’t forget to give them a friendly wave.
Our first stop was Eulo, a small township on the banks of the Paroo River. Here you will find stories to stimulate the mind, mud baths to soothe your body, and a pub to slake your thirst. Eulo also has two great camping options for you.
The Eulo General Store has most supplies including fuel, but unfortunately for the town and regular visitors, the historic general store, established in the 1880s, burned to the ground in July 2011.
Emily and Rodney Geiger, the owners, told me that that losing the old store was a massive blow to the community and sad for anyone who knew the shop. The old store was where the locals would catch up and Emily and Rodney now hope the new store will continue the tradition. “The new store has been stocked to cater for both travellers and locals” said Emily, “but RVers stop in for fuel, coffee and takeaway food more than groceries.”
Across the road is the Paroo Patch. Here Tom and Helen create masterpieces – Tom from leather and Helen with patchwork. From saddle bags and stock whips to knife pouches and belts, Tom works all the leather by hand. Rob picked up belt and a fantastic leather pouch for his Leatherman that will keep it safe for years to come. Helen spends her time creating colourful patchwork and making shirts and bags.
At the Artesian Mud Baths, part of the great thermal way, Nan and Ian Pike will treat you like royalty as you soak in the soothing, silky grey mud that seeps to the surface. Let your skin be revitalised while you lie in the outdoor bathtub, sipping on a glass of wine as the sun sets and the fire crackles beside you.
“We anticipate our visitors will experience pure relaxation and a feeling of wellbeing while being pampered,” says Nan.
Eulo also has one of the best-preserved and richest megafauna fossil sites in Australia. First located in 2011, the site has uncovered fossils including those of a Diprotodon, a giant wombat nicknamed ‘Kenny’. These bones were used to create a bronze replica that rests proudly in the main street. According to Emily, the town would like to extend the park where Kenny sits to include more statues of the various megafauna that have been found near Eulo.
There are two places to park your RV. The Eulo Queen Hotel has grassed sites tucked behind the pub for a small fee that includes access to toilet and showers. The alternative is free camping down on the Paroo River, across the bridge and just out of town. I recommend you collect your wood before arriving as there is nothing to be found on site.
The Eulo Queen Hotel was once owned by the infamous Isabel Robinson who, it is said, would entertain the opal miners in her bedroom as her husband looked after the bar. She was heard telling one unruly guest to remove himself from her establishment with the words: “I’m the Eulo Queen….now get out!”. You can read more about the history of the hotel on the story boards in the dining room.
We parked our fully self-contained Avida Esperance motorhome at the back of the Eulo Queen Hotel and went to enjoy happy hour with a few of the fellow campers. The tasty home-style meals available at the hotel are great if you don’t feel like cooking for yourself, but we found that the kitchen setup in the motorhome made it easy to whip up a meal before we joined the others at the bar for a nightcap.
The scenery from Eulo changes from the flat, treeless plains to red dirt and rocky ground heavily populated with mulga trees. The deadwood from these trees is ideal for camp fires, but be careful that what you collect isn’t the home of some little creature.
The road from Eulo to Thargomindah will take you past Lake Bindegolly National Park, a birdwatchers paradise. No fishing or camping is allowed within the park, but there is a bush camp on the southern side of the Adventure Way at the Lake Bindegolly Bridge.
Due to the fragile nature of the park, you can only explore on foot, with a 9.2km circuit trail taking you to a lakeside bird hide. From here you can spot freckled grey teal and hard head ducks, black swans, cormorants and pied stilts who love the shrimps and yabbies that pervade the waters of the lake.
Thargomindah was first settled in the 1860s and became an important post for Cobb & Co; you can still walk the original crossing. The old Thargomindah hospital was built before 1888 and now serves as a museum that is a tribute to the town’s heritage. The hospital is also reported to be haunted by a friendly female ghost. Dressed in a red skirt and white blouse, she freely walks the old wards making her presence known to those who are aware. Fortunately, we didn’t get to meet her!
Historic Leahy House, once owned by Sir Sidney Kidman the pioneering pastoralist, was constructed in 1885 out of local unfired mud bricks and has been preserved in its original form. Leahy House was named after the ‘King of the Bulloo’, John Leahy MP, and tells the story of the region’s past and present history.
Thargomindah was the first town in Australia, and third in the world behind London and Paris, to have street lighting! Using the pressure produced by bore water from the Great Artesian Basin, hydro-electric power was created. You can experience the hydro power plant demonstration daily at 4.30pm. A gold coin donation is appreciated to help with the upkeep of the plant.
Being the administrative centre of the Bulloo Shire, Thargomindah has all the major services as well as a supermarket to stock your pantry and a pub to top up your fridge. The newly built Visitor Information Centre will provide you with all the information you need on what to see and do in the area.
As a pleasant diversion from the Adventure Way, head for the “pub with no town”. The South Western Hotel in Toompine is a great place to stop for a couple of days’ R&R. Not only will you be served icy cold beer and fed great home-style food, the publican Russell will have you in stitches with his dry outback humour. Another bonus is the free camping – free power, free water and free hot showers.
I highly recommend you visit Toompine, you will really enjoy yourself! I suggest you ask Russell why the cemetery is signed as “Cemery”; visit the local opal fields; chat to the locals, who might be opal miners or pastoralists from the region; have a hit of tennis or have a crack at the 9 hole golf course with its sand scrapes.
Our final destination on the Adventure Way was the Noccundra Hotel, another of the great Queensland pubs. The Noccundra was built with sandstone from near Tibooburra, carried over 200km by camels. First licensed in 1886, this is another pub without a town and is part of the nearby Nockatunga Station.
Across the road from the Noccundra Hotel is the Wilson River waterhole. This permanent waterhole is one of the best free campsites in the outback. You’ll find it a great spot to throw in a line to tempt a golden, spangled or silver perch, knowing that you are in a ‘carp free’ zone.
The population of Noccundra swells each October when the Noccundra Rodeo takes place. This weekend keeps publicans Neil and Marg very busy. With a camp draft, rodeo, horse and motorbike gymkhana and bull riding, this is one weekend to add to your calendar.
You can enjoy great food and beverages at the pub (you can even grab a cappuccino!) and, for a gold coin donation, avail yourself of hot showers next door. Noccundra is a top place to relax for a few days, especially in the Esperance, which we found to be perfectly designed for free camping.
Looking up at the night sky before I retired for the night, I marvelled at the number of stars lighting the night sky and realised anew how lucky we are to have so much space to enjoy nights like this in our great country. I was also excited knowing our next stop was Birdsville… yep, just in time for the legendary Birdsville Races.