THE BRUCE BYPASS
If you’re looking for an excuse to get off the Bruce Highway heading north, the Burnett Region is it!
WORDS BY LORRAINE HOLLOWAY, PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN AND LORRAINE HOLLOWAY
The need to drive from Central Queensland to Murgon for a housesitting stint on a farm presented us with a dilemma. No RVers these days, unless they absolutely have to, want to travel “The Bruce”, a major highway cutting a swathe from Brisbane to Cairns for some 1,650km. We had to find an excuse to get off The Bruce! After studying our map, we decided to leave the highway at Rockhampton and follow Australia’s Country Way, a minor highway, incorporating The Burnett and The New England Highways from Rockhampton to Sydney. This would bring us to close enough to our destination in the South Burnett; we would do the rest of the trip another time.
Our first stop over was at Mt Morgan, a former mining town. We had wanted to do a mine tour on a previous visit, but bad weather had closed the mine. This time, we were in luck. After settling in to Mt Morgan Caravan Park, we joined the tour bus for an historical tour of the town, before heading to the now defunct mine site. The mine, closed in the 1980s, produced gold, silver and copper. Part of the tour included the old fireclay caverns, dug over 100 years ago. Evidence of Jurassic dinosaur footprints can be seen in the roof of the caverns.
The owner of the caravan park in Mt Morgan is an avid collector of motorbikes, in particular Harleys and Indians. He has a 1942 Harley WLA on display in the office. We were lucky enough to be shown through his entire collection.
Continuing along the Burnett and criss-crossing the river from where it takes its name, we passed through the towns of Biloela, Thangool, Monto and Eidsvold. The town of Monto was established when gold was found nearby at Three Moon Creek, but these days is the centre of farming and logging in the area. The Historical Complex in town has examples of horse drawn carriages, rail memorabilia and historic buildings. On our visit, we were impressed with the gold stamp, recently restored by the complex volunteers.
Cania Gorge National Park is easily accessed from Monto, while Eidsvold hosts the RM Williams Bush Learning Centre. Opened in 2010, the centre is a celebration of the life of Reginald Murray Williams, and promotes the culture and history of the area, with a focus on youth and the indigenous.
Access to the former mining town (and now ghost town) of Cracow is gained from Eidsvold along recently sealed road. This drive is worth it to see the relics of this frontier town, old banks, butchers and billiard halls, the working pub and the restored courthouse (now the Cracow Mining Heritage Centre). Behind the heritage centre is a brilliant RV camp, with drive-through sites, power and water, ensuites and a camp kitchen.
Heading south, we noticed the geography starting to change and began to see citrus trees – predominantly oranges and lemons – around Gayndah and Mundubbera, along with many farm stalls selling their produce. We were disappointed to find either 5kg bags of oranges (too many for two grey nomads), or produce stores selling imported oranges (out of season). There were too few stalls that would sell just a few, or a variety of oranges, mandarins and lemons.
The historical village of Gayndah, home to approximately 1,750 people, was established in 1849, and is thought to be the oldest gazetted town in Queensland. The town has an orange festival every two years, with an oversized orange being the “home” of the local information centre. Wander historic Capper Street, see the old Court House, the pretty blue and white CWA rooms, and Mellors Drapery and Haberdashery – one of those iconic emporiums that sells everything from riding boots to rubber thongs, akubras to giggle hats, and reflective gear to swim wear. Check out the rare method of cash handling; a flying fox cash dispenser. This heritage-listed dispenser is still operational; just ask the friendly staff for a demonstration.
Another couple of side trips from Gayndah worth mentioning are the Ideraway Bridge and the Gleneden Bullock Team. The bridge, completed in 1907 and known affectionately by locals as The Upside Down Bridge, is well worth the visit. The truss re-uses the falsework from the Macrossan Bridge near Charters Towers. To find this unusual bridge, just north of Gayndah, turn right off the Burnett Highway onto Ideraway Road, and follow the brown tourist signs to the Historic Bridge. You can include this side trip on a scenic drive from Gayndah to Binjour Range Lookout, returning via Gleneden to the turnoff that leads to the McConnell Lookout on the Mt Debatable Road. This drive takes you to the summit of Mt Gayndah with panoramic views of the Burnett River and orchards along the river. The steep, winding road to the summit is not suitable for caravans. Binjour Lookout is a popular freedom camp 17km north of Gayndah on the Highway.
For details of more scenic drives, visit the Gayndah Visitors Centre.
Murgon gave us a lot of options in all directions for day trips from our base; from historic villages and museums to national parks and natural waterways. The villages of Kilkivan and Goomeri, both to the east, have something to offer. Goomeri has its annual Pumpkin Festival, held on the last Sunday of May. This is a fun-filled day of entertainment, featuring scrumptious pumpkin rolls and fun competitions, cooking displays and heritage street parades. Entry is free for the day, and camping is available. The quaint little town of Kilkivan is home to the Kilkivan Great Horse Ride, where each April, more than 1000 horses travel part of the National Trail, cumulating in a grand parade in town. Also around town are tributes to pioneers in the town museum, restored buildings, antique shops and a brilliant little café and B&B called The Left Bank, a tribute to its early days as the town’s original bank. The butcher here produces the best traditional wood-smoked meats, maple bacon and hams I have tasted in a long time. Not far from Kilkivan is Mudlo National Park, featuring two walking tracks amongst native hoop pine rainforest, and Kinbombi Falls – where, if you’re keen enough, you can take the 200 steps to the bottom of the gorge.
The town of Murgon was established in the early 1900s following the establishment of the Barambah Aboriginal Settlement (now the town of Cherbourg). These days we see a small but modern town with medical, supermarkets, butchers and bakery. The Ration Shed Museum in Cherbourg is run by indigenous locals who are passionate about preserving their history, and educating others about what it was like to live under the Aboriginal Protection Act in the early parts of last century. Sandra Morgan, chairperson of the museum, gave us a guided tour of the old ration shed, the superintendent’s office, and the boys’ dormitory. Sandra has lived in Cherbourg all her life, and she and other elders of the community love to share their passion and memories with the general public, schools and other educational facilities. These days, the ration shed holds photographic and recorded memories of current and former residents in the form of a time line. The dormitory displays sporting memorabilia and exhibitions of shadow boxes and many threads where women celebrate their memories. Coming soon is the Boys from Barambah/Cherbourg Anzac Display, a photographic tribute to the Black Diggers from the small community. Allow at least 2 hours for this very educational and thought-provoking tour.
If you would rather take a walk in the woods, head north of Murgon towards Tablelands and Boat Mountain Conservation Park, where, after a climb of about 180 steps, there is an easy 1 kilometre hike to Daniels Lookout, offering panoramic views back to Goomeri, bird watching and top photographic opportunities. Return via Silburns Vine Scrub walk, a side loop of around 900 metres. Boat Mountain is named for its resemblance to an upturned boat. After your hike, continue to Jack Smith Scrub Regional Park, where you can take the 20-minute Owenia Nature Walk. This small park was donated by local farmer, Jack Smith, to help preserve the remnant dry rainforest that has been largely cleared in the area to make way for agriculture. After your walk here, pop down to the Apex Park in Crownthorpe Road, for lunch and a toilet break.
Another great day’s drive out of Murgon is along the Barambah Road where you can take in the wine trail of the area and visit Bjelke Petersen Dam, before continuing via the Burnett highway to Nanango, back to Kingaroy and then return via Wondai – a round trip of about 150km.
The Barambah Wine Trail takes in half a dozen of the wineries of the region, some offering light meals as well as tastings. Our visit to Moffatdale Ridge coincided with a coffee machine that was, regrettably, out of order… but Susan Kinsella, 4th generation farmer, made us feel welcome with free tastings. The nearby Bjelke Petersen Dam, built for irrigation purposes, is a popular place for fishing, boating and camping.
It was on this trip that geocaching found us the best freedom camp we have seen in years. The Broadwater Recreation Reserve, only 22km fromNanango, is the epitome of peace and quiet. A large grassy paddock, cattle, goats, birds on the waterway and no passing traffic make this a delight for birdwatchers and photographers alike.
Nanango, gateway to the Bunya Mountains, has a lot to offer the tourist or passers-by. There’s the historic Mural Walk, the Heritage Trail and Chainsaw Sculptures, or you can visit historic Ringsfield House, built in 1908 by Architect Robyn Dods. This is a living museum where the history of the town is displayed and has a delightful café, where you can have Devonshire teas or lunch.
Kingaroy, 25km North West of Nanango on the Bunya Highway, is the peanut capital of Australia; here you can call in to see the Kingaroy Heritage Museum, the only peanut-industry-based museum in Australia. Buy your peanuts from the peanut van, located on the highway as you head north towards Wondai, and don’t forget to visit The Stop Shop at Memerambi, just to the north of Kingaroy. Sample their delicious ice-creams, smell the spices, taste olives, tapenades and relishes, or top up on more nuts as you head out of town.
Did we find an excuse to get off the Bruce? I think so; there was so much to see, so much to do, and as usual, not enough time in which to do it. With seven weeks in the area, you would think we could say “been there, done that”, but as usual, we have only scraped the surface, whetting our appetite for our next visit through the area.