Martian Holiday

2 February 2011

Murgon’s soil is like the red planet’s, and here you’ll have a stellar getaway

What do Murgon and Mars have in common? Locals that are off the planet? Little understood by NASA? Or simply soil that is red? Well, both Murgon and Mars have a high quantity of iron in the soil, which goes red (or rusty) when it oxidises. This happens in Murgon when the soil becomes weathered. On Mars, it’s probably because of intense UV radiation.


The blushing soil of Murgon is amongst the most fertile in Australia. This has not gone unnoticed and the region is rich in agricultural pursuits, including vast fields of drug crops (more on that later – maybe the locals really are off the planet?). Grazing land dominates, but this is slowly changing.


Murgon is the hub of the South Burnett region of South East Queensland. South Burnett nudges Gympie in the east and is only 140km north of Brisbane, making it ideally situated for dragging the RV to. We dragged ours along the Wide Bay Highway from Gympie, skipping around the pretty hills of Brooyar and Oakview State Forests, along the valleys and between the farms and stands of eucalypt trees.


Using an iPhone to a small degree and The Force to a large degree, we stumbled across an absolute Murgon gem (The Force was strong that day).


That rich, volcanic soil also grows superb caravan parks, in particular Barambah Bush Caravan Park. The park is set amongst 200 acres of bushland, and you can set up camp between shady green towers of spotted gum.


Barambah is blissfully peaceful, and is considerately shared by over 100 bird species and numerous marsupials.


Wallabies emerge at dusk to drink from the dam, and when the light dims further, possums gather to elicit food from campers using nothing more than the power of their cuteness. Wellmarked tracks allow you to explore the property and discover the families of koalas who live there. And as for the amenities and friendliness of service, I have only two words: five stars.


Six kilometres away is the novelty-oversize width of Murgon’s main street. It grew this wide to accommodate the teamsters hauling timber from the now barer Boat Mountain, and the cattle along the stock route to Brisbane. Today, parkland occupies the centre strip, and you can picnic there or enjoy the country markets, held on the second Sunday of each month. The local Visitor Information Centre can also be found in the median strip.


Apart from collecting information and seeing displays that exhibit gems and local industry, (actually really interesting) you can also make bookings to do some local gem fossicking.


Murgon is home to just 2600 people, but is extremely well endowed with facilities. There is everything you need – restaurants, shops, cafés, garages, supermarket, bowls club, RSL, hospital, golf and a swimming pool.


To the north of town is Boat Mountain, so called because it looks like a boat turned upside down. It offers wonderful views over the whole region and some short walks around the top. From the west of town, take Gayndah Rd past the stockyards, turn onto Crownthorpe Rd, then look for the signs to Boat Mountain. As a detour, you can also follow the signs to Jack Smith’s Scrub where you can walk amongst remnant bushland and see what the countryside looked like before agriculture took hold.


As you ascend along Crownthorpe Rd, views unfold of alternating strips of red soil and green crops. Short, leafy bushes indicate Duboisia is being grown. Contact with the plant can cause a sore throat and dilated pupils, and that’s because Duboisia is a potent drug crop.


Rather than selling to Columbian drug cartels, however, the farmers produce Duboisia largely for overseas pharmaceutical companies. A compound called hyoscine is extracted and is used for a variety of purposes from treating motion sickness to relaxing muscles before operations.


The Aborigines used to throw the crushed leaves of the plant into fishponds. The drug released would affect the central nervous system of the fish, impairing their ability to swim. They would float to the surface for easy pickings.


Murgon is the Duboisia capital of the world. You could say this is due to canny marketing and good ol’ Aussie fortitude; however, the fact is that Murgon’s Martian soil makes it singularly suitable for this plant.


There are a number of other important crops you’ll spot as you drive around the region. Paulownias, or Chinese empress trees, are deciduous hardwoods that can grow up to 6m in their first year. Dragon fruits appear in blazes of red and yellow, growing up to one kilo each in size on the scrambling branches of a climbing cactus with stems up to 7m long. Far more humble navy beans are grown to serve the baked bean industry. There are also peanuts, but they belong more to Kingaroy, and that’s another story.


There is one other crop that’s also a lot of fun for visitors – wine. In the last 20 years winegrowers have recognised the suitability of the region’s crimson volcanic soil and ideal climate for winemaking, and today there are enough wineries to string together a tour. One vineyard, Clovelly Estate, is now Queensland’s second largest. Get directions to the Barambah Wine Trail and follow the signs.


A key attraction can be seen from the cellar doors of many of the wineries – Lake Barambah, created by the Bjelke-Petersen dam. Yallakool Tourist Park is king of the castle high atop Barambah’s banks, an ideal lakeside getaway. The lake is popular with water sport enthusiasts and fisher folk alike.


Millions of fish eggs have been seeded in the lake to ensure bountiful catches. You can look forward to, amongst others, golden perch, silver perch, Australian bass, Murray cod, eel-tailed catfish and spangled perch.


If you like to stretch your legs or your limits out in nature, Murgon and surrounds cater well for fresh-air seekers.


Bushwalking, birdwatching, rock climbing and horseback riding are all on offer. Wondai State Forest is the closest and most accessible. Nearby Mt Stanley is surrounded by state forest, and north and west of Murgon there are a number of smaller, more remote pockets of state bushland. Road traffic is fairly light, especially early in the mornings, so I can highly recommend cycling as an activity too.


Queensland is big, so sometimes the best way to sightsee is a driving tour. At the Tourist Information Centre you can get directions to some recommended drives. The Wondai-Boondooma Loop, passing through Proston and Durong along the way, will take you through pretty towns, Boondooma Lake, the bottle-tree filled Jack Coe Park and Boondooma Homestead.


Goomeri to Kilkivan is a shorter, easier option. Apart from experiencing what the towns themselves have to offer, there are a number of offshoots to explore. Rossmore Road leads to The Chimney, a historical copper mine, and to Prophet Mine where you can fossick for gold. North of Kilkivan is Mudlo Conservation Park, a native hoop pine forest that’s great for views and walking. Kinbombi Road leads to the popular Kinbombi Falls amongst the ironbark trees.


Murgon’s scarlet soil has created a region of plenty. Not only does it propel plants skyward and support grazing stock, but it has grown industries, painted the landscape and created rich habitats, all in an environment of contemplative calm and simple beauty.


High atop the Great Dividing Range, a visit to Murgon and the South Burnett will be an experience unlike just about any other in the state.




From south of Brisbane, follow the A3 until you hit the Bunya Hwy, then turn left. North of Brisbane, follow the A1, turn left onto the Daguilar Hwy. Follow this until you hit the Bunya Hwy, then turn left.




Bunya Wakka Wakka Cultural Heritage Corporation,
106 Lamb St, Murgon. T: 07 4168
3044. E: [email protected]


80 Haly St, Wondai. T: (07) 4168 5652.
E: [email protected].
Open 9am–4pm.


12 Bligh St, Kilkivan. T: (07) 5484 1612.
Open Tue-Fri 10am-3pm, Saturdays 12pm–3pm.


From the west of town, take Gayndah Rd past the stockyards, turn onto Crownthorpe Rd, then look for the signs to Boat Mountain.




$5/person. Bookings at the Murgon Visitor Information Centre.


$10/person. T: (07) 4168 6098.
E: [email protected]


2 Sommerville St, Murgon. T: (07) 4169 5001.
Open daily 9.30am–12.30pm. Entry by donation.


Take the Barambah Wine Trail and grab a bottle (or two) at one of the many cellar doors. Contact the Tourist Information Centre for more details.

By Sean Cummins