Outback Queensland wasn’t somewhere I considered travelling to on our 18-month road trip around Australia until friends told us what a great time they had in a town called Winton.
We continued to hear great stories of the region, and so when the opportunity arose on the way home we detoured through it and loved it!
There’s something about the Outback that pulls you in and fills you up and wants you to return. So it was a no-brainer when tourism Outback Queensland asked us to partner with them and use our communities to help shape our journey and showcase what a great region it is for families on a road trip.
We’ll be publishing three blog posts (and a few YouTube videos) about the highlights of this region and how to enjoy a road trip with kids.
In this post though, we wanted to share why we love Outback Queensland and think it’s an enriching destination for families.
Why we love Outback Queensland
The open spaces and chance to reconnect
You don’t understand silence and stillness until you visit the Outback. You can hear every scrunch of your footsteps on the gravels, every note of the cicada’s song, and the ruffle of the gentle breeze through your hair.
Urban life at home on the coast is consuming and distracting and filled with notifications, schedules, and insane busyness that robs your ability to breathe deeply.
When you go Outback, you reclaim space. Space to think. Space to contemplate. Space to reconnect.
It’s a reconnection to yourself, to your loved ones, the land, and the mystical thing that brings us all together.
Life is not distracted by flashing neon lights, crowded markets, and exhausting theme parks, which is what a typical family holiday brings.
In the Outback, all this disappears and you’re left with the purity of life – how it’s existed for millions of years without you. In that space, you start figuring out just who YOU is.
It’s a rich experience
Outback Queensland is rich in history, culture, stories, landscapes, characters and vibrant colour.
You get out there thinking you’re only going to see red dust but are surprised by a landscape splash painted in green with abundant wildlife, big blue skies, and a surprising amount of waterholes.
Outback Queensland is where vast loneliness and abundant life live side by side. There’s no other place quite like it.
Most importantly, as you’ll see through our post, this region is rich in memories, and that is why we travel more often and with our kids – to accumulate memories and moments, not just possessions!
It’s a road trip destination
The best way to travel Outback Queensland is via a self-drive road trip, and a road trip is our favourite way to travel as a family.
The distances between towns can be long, but if you plan your trip wisely, and travel for at least 10 days, once you’re in the region you can get away with, on average, only 1-2 hours driving a day.
This doesn’t have to be stressful with kids. We use this time in our car to reconnect with each other. We talk, play games, eat yummy snacks, the girls help out with navigation and music selection, and we love to sing together. Our song for this road trip was “Love Yourself.” We got the Bieber Fever!
Road trips also offer quiet space for reflection – to stare out the window at the endless space and beautiful trees and be in awe of it, giggle at the emus racing off into the distance, and count how many times you stop for cows crossing the road.
Of course, priceless moments happen that will define your trip and bring you right back to the Outback every time you hear your daughter say, “Put your hands up if you like mushed up carrots” – Savannah’s favourite question randomly asked on our road trip (and to passing strangers.)
You learn about resilience and innovation
Lives lived in such close connection to the land and open spaces help inspired thought to be heard. It brings grit and determination, and innovation!
Urban people can have too many safety nets, which often pushes us into a zone of complacency and lethargy. It’s not without challenges, but rarely do we have to deal with brutal weather conditions and a harsh land that forces us to live with extreme unpredictability we have no control over.
It’s not often we’re faced with a sink or swim reality, so our creative space for innovation lays dormant, or slides into oblivion.
Why create something new, when we’ve got so much cushioning our fall?
I never knew until I visited Outback Queensland how much of white Australian culture and history has sprung from this region.
It’s the birthplace of Qantas, and you can learn about Australia’s most iconic brand at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach.
Waltzing Matilda was first written and sang in Winton.
Barcaldine has The Tree of Knowledge, where the Labour Party was born.
Roma was the first town in Australia to discover gas, and you can learn about that at The Big Rig.
Longreach is where the stockman helped create a thriving cattle and wool industry, where damper and scones and a billy tea under a starry sky and campfire with stories became an event.
And now, while conditions are drought bleak again, new innovations are springing up as farmers and community are moving into creating tourism experiences.
Perhaps it’s not so much that these stories of innovation don’t happen in our cities, it’s just that out here you have space and time to hear them. And you’re way more impressed as the adversities are so harsh ad so out of human control.
Watch our Outback Queensland vlogs:
So much history and culture
I mentioned several of the experiences that make up the history and culture of Outback Queensland in the previous point, but I want to reiterate how rich this region is to help you connect to the Australian culture.
I learn more visiting this region than I ever did in school.
On one evening in Longreach after our Starlight’s Cruise Experience with Kinnon & Co, under the stars around a campfire and in front of a big screen by the Thomson River, we learned the story of Harry Redford, otherwise known as Captain Starlight, a hustler who stole over a thousand cattle from Bowen Downs and ran it all the way to South Australia.
It was his insistence on taking the white bull that eventually lead to his arrest.
Early the next morning, we set out for Starlight’s Lookout to capture the sunrise. We took the wrong road, and while we caught a spectacular sunrise regardless, spent the morning driving around trying to find it.
We passed by what we thought looked like the lookout (it was, we were just on the wrong side of it) and just off the side of the road was a white bull.
“Oh look Mummy. There’s a white bull. The Lookout must be around here then as the White Bull belongs to Captain Starlight.”
I loved how Kalyra had connected to that story and was now living it in part. Out here, you’re put inside of the stories of history to experience it yourself. It’s something no text book in any classroom can offer.
We stood in the space where Waltzing Matilda was first sung at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton, played the musical fence that inspired the music of Gotye, and heard the tales and stories of a Greek man with an entrepreneurial spirit who built Hotel Corones in Charleville, which was once the hub of southwestern Queensland society.
There’s so much nostalgia here and a chance for your children to be part of an exciting story and adventure of their homeland.
Indigenous experiences are beginning to crop up, and I’d love to see more of them. The traditional owners can provide many rich stories and Outback experiences as well.
Madonna and Lyle from Bonus Downs Farmstay are incorporating Aboriginal dancing and singing of an evening with Lance, a young Roma boy, who recently won Australian Legend of the Year for the work he’s doing with Indigenous youth.
There’s a fascinating section on Aboriginal stockman history in the Hall of Fame Museum in Longreach.
Cheryl Richardson, the owner of Ridgee Didge Cafe in Barcaldine has created coffee beans roasted with a distinct Aboriginal and outback flavour. She’s intending to spread Coolamon Coffee across the region as well as looking at ways to create indigenous experiences showcasing how they have co-existed with this land for thousands of years.
Apart from all the incredible cultural experiences I’ve mentioned: the stockman history, the gas and oil in Roma, Waltzing Matilda, the birth of the labour party, we also have the dinosaurs!
Yes, Winton is home to the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils in the world.
I love standing on the jump up at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs and looking out of the endless plains and imagining dinosaurs once roaming. Just slightly change the landscape into rainforest as that’s what the landscape was. It’s hard to believe this barren land was once lush and tropical on the edge of the inland sea.
Just another awe-inspiring moment.
The people bring it to life
The people of Outback Queensland have time for you.
Lunches and coffee are a little bit longer, and definitely not taken in front of a computer screen. Even when they’re busy flipping eggs, or attending to larger groups on tour, they’ll stop and offer time to exchange a few stories.
On one afternoon, during our stay at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton, we went down to the bar for an afternoon drink. The gentleman beside me told me the fascinating story of how Lyndon Johnson, former President of the United States, once found himself in Winton after his plane became lost flying from Darwin and Townsville during WWII.
At Fannie Mae’s Cafe in Tambo, the staff sat down with us to chat for a bit after they had a lull in orders. We saw them later that night at the local pub, and a few days later in the local IGA store in Blackall, both times chatting as if we were old friends.
On our visit last year, the girls ran around the Camden Park Station with the Walker children and always speak so fondly of John, our friend in Winton who introduced us to all the locals in the town.
And Johnny, the 86-year-old friend who visited Bonus Downs and could get off the ground faster than me, entertained the girls with his horse and antics and gave them a horse ride in the morning.
If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you’ve already read about my interaction with Johnny. If not, you can read it here.
Now a hospital is not the place you want to end up on your travels. Don’t worry, everyone is fine, and we were well looked after, and you can read more about that here. Most of the doctors and nurses here were not from Outback Queensland, but the pace of life and connectedness must have rubbed off on them because their care and graciousness was outstanding.
So much so we even spoke about it on ABC Longreach. I couldn’t believe how much time the head Doctor gave to Kalyra to patiently explain what was happening, to check up on her, crack jokes and even take her on in a star jump challenge.
The vistas and landscapes
The open spaces of the Outback lead to incredible vistas.
Whether you’re driving along the roads, standing on top of a jump up, beside a homestead dam, or down a dusty track, for miles and miles all you see is the stunning beauty of Mother Earth.
You come across constant surprises like the incredible Lara Wetlands and hidden creeks and rivers.
Sunsets became a nightly event again. They light up the entire sky in vivid hues of orange, red and pink, and set the landscape aglow. There is nothing getting in your way of watching her slip into sleep.
And the night time skies are uninterrupted by light pollution. Like a time-lapse, you can see with your naked eye it moves from one little sparkle to an entire milky way spread out before you.
Unique and fun experiences
On our first night, we arrived at Bonus Downs FarmStay for a lovely evening with owners Madonna and Lyle, who in true Outback Queensland fashion welcomed us in like family.
Kalyra was busting to go to the toilet and so I took her. We walked in the door and a little frog was sitting on the chair. I squealed with delight. “We’re back!!”
Kalyra remembered and asked me to check the toilet. We opened the lid and there were two green beady eyes staring back. We both shrieked, jumped back and fell about laughing. Kalyra decided she didn’t need to go to the toilet anymore, lol. We giggled about it the rest of the night and I knew she loved being back just as much as me – those are memories we’ll have forever!
The next morning, we fell about laughing again, when after seeing her squished face eating her jam on toast, I realised I’d mistaken the home made chutney for jam!!
The girls laughed hysterically during the Harry Redford Tent Show in Longreach and then once again when their mother was pulled from the crowd at the Stockman’s Show in Longreach to pretend she was a cow and outrun the horse.
There are so many more giggles and memories I can share.
The Outback has experiences you can’t get anywhere else. From green frogs in toilets to Cobb & Co Stagecoach rides, Tambo Teddies, to star gazing, bilby cuddles, and stockman shows, your children get so much richness from a trip to Outback Queensland.
It inspires us and helps us connect so deeply to our own culture, but more importantly has given us so many rich memories to reflect back on, and laugh about, for the years to come.
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