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Waltz Down The Matilda Highway

The Outback of the Matilda Highway
The Outback of the Matilda Highway
The Outback can be an unforgiving place - journeys need to be planned, supply stocks need to be fuelled. Care and preparation is needed, but for all the effort the rewards come tenfold. And one stretch of highway where the rewards are exceptionally high is the Matilda Highway, which runs up the length of West Queensland and is often referred to as the 'Backbone of the Outback'.

The diversity of the landscapes you pass through is complemented by the diversity of the characters and larrikins you are likely to meet in the pubs and hotels and out on the road. See billabongs, rocky gorges, and miles and miles of wide open space. Park your campervan hire in outback towns that tip their hats to times gone past, when the wool trade turned this region into a prosperous and bustling region despite the hardships of living here. Enjoy the real outback!

The Matilda Highway starts in Barringun, which is on the Queensland/New South Wales border, and runs for 1700 kilomtres to Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria, way up in the north of Queensland. We shall start in Cunnamulla, which is the first major town on the highway, and a place with a delightful old world feel to it. Established to service the large livestock ranches nearby, a drive down the main street is like stepping into a world gone by or a scene from a historical film. Pay a visit to the Robbers Tree, a large tree at the end of the street where a bank robber called Joseph Wells once hid after fleecing the town of its cash. The Warrego River runs past the town and is popular amongst fishermen and boating enthusiasts. A number of the sheep and cattle stations nearby such as Aldville Station and Charlotte Plains let you camp at the station, giving you a great taste of the outback farming lifestyle.

Continuing north you get to Charleville, the largest town in the south west of the outback region. So far the drive will have taken you through the 'Mulga Country' that is typified by the sparse mulga vegetation that will survive all but the worst drought. The town itself is a hardy place too, with a long history that you can best experience on the Charleville Heritage Trail which gives you the historical take on the town. Charleville is probably the best place in the world for star gazing, and at the Cosmos Centre and Observatory it seems like you can almost reach out and touch them. Dont miss paying the Corones Hotel a visit either, which has provided elegant period style accommodation since the prosperous wool era.

One spot you shouldnt miss as you continue on your journey is the teddy bear workshop at Tambo, whose teddies have achieved something of a cult status worldwide. Made from local sheep leather and wool, they are a true outback success story and a great souvenir of your trip. You can spend some time in Tambo or continue on to Blackall, where the statue of Jackie Howe greets you on the main street. He is famous for his world record sheep shearing skills, and you are bound to hear many stories of that night in 1892 when he blade shore 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 minutes.

Longreach will probably be your next stop over, and it is undoubtedly the biggest town you will pass through. Named because of the 'Long Reach' of the Thompson River on which it sits, it is home to such landmarks as the Stockman's Hall of Fame (which has recently undergone large renovations, and provides unparalleled historical insights into the outback) and to the Qantas Founders Outback Museum. This museum is a tribute to the efforts of those who overcame the problems of long distance travel in the outback, and is a popular means of exploring the history of our aviation industry.

You cannot traverse the Matilda Highway and not call in at Winton, the spot where Banjo Patterson conceived his infamous 'Waltzing Matilda' song. At the Waltzing Matilda Centre you can explore the life of the famous poet and the legend of the song for which he is best remembered. Its definitely worth a look. Another attraction that is worth your time is the Lark Quarry Dinosaur Trackway, which you need to take a one hour detour off the highway to get to. It is believed to be the world's only preserved dinosaur stampede, and that reason alone makes the extra distance seem not so bad!

The town of Cloncurry was once one of the earliest bastions of wealth in the outback, having profited from the rich copper deposits under the earth here. Its known as 'The Friendly Heart of the North West' and there are a number of sheep and cattle farms nearby that use it as a sales point. You are sure to be entertained by some colourful characters! The town is at a crossroads, and you can continue north along the Matilda Highway into the Far Reaches of Queensland and the towns of Normanton and Karumba, where the highway ends, or you can head east or west along the Overlanders Way. Whichever way you choose, more of the beauty and wonders of outback Australia await you on your campervan hire Queensland adventures!

Gavin Wyatt

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