I done a heap of outback travels in my time so I reckon I can claim to be an avid outback tourer, and I think I have found one of the most outback towns that you could ever come across.
Hungerford, population ‘around’ 20 ‘or so’, is located pretty much in the middle of everywhere. Actually its 215km NW of Bourke in far western NSW along the Dowling Track that runs all the way north into QLD to Quilpie. This is isolation 101 out here. The place shuts down in summer due to the stifling heat, and gets cut off when the nearby Paroo River floods, but saying that the town folk are very welcoming to any tourist that stop in for a visit.
Let’s set the seen first. If you're coming from Bourke in NSW, its a good 3 hours of dirt road to get to Hungerford and when you do you’ll need to open the wold famous Wild Dog Fence ( aka Dingo or Dog fence ) to enter QLD and to enter Hungerford itself.
Its pretty cool to open the feel the massive lock on the gate, then to unlock it and swing the whole gate open, its like an achievement, a proud moment as you know you're touching something known around the world and also entering another state. Looking along the fence is a marvel too.
This 12 foot high chain wire fence with sand blown high on its base often covered with small scrubs and sometimes flowers is an achievement to the early pioneers that erected the whole thing, all 5614 km of it passing through several states of Australia, the longest fence in the world !.
Now getting a parking spot in the main street really isn’t a problem with the wide street because to put it simply you’ll probably see no other cars there. It's a quiet town where there’s the pub, police station, about 4 houses, a tennis court and the local medical centre, open once a month when the RFDS attend town. Coming from the north its a 2 hour drive south along the red dirt road of the Dowling Track.
Hungerford is a quirky town today with man made steel welded-up statues near the pub and dressed up figurines in the old bus stop. But it actually has some some pretty cool history about the area.
The Royal Mail Hotel was built in 1874 some 25 after pastoralists were in the area and soon became the stopover for the old Cobb & Co coaches passing through to central QLD. The pub was made up of old iron and timber to let travellers have a break from the flies, heat and rain.
Soon it became the local PO as the town grew where it had several pubs and churches, a school and even shops. Its all bar gone now except for the Royal Mail pub, but inside lining the walls, there’s a myriad of memorabilia, photos of what once was and relics from the past.
Funnily enough it was a few years later in 1892 that Henry Lawson walked from Bourke to Hungerford in the height of summer taking him 3 weeks to do so looking for work. Getting to Hungerford and finding none, he simply turned around and walk back. Some of his bush poetry has come from his time walking alone and experiencing the hardship of this area.
Most travellers that ‘come’ to Hungerford are only passing through, either to drive the full length of the iconic 560 km Dowling Track that highlights the beauty and diversity of the areas that it passes through, or to explore the nearby stunning Currawinja National Park.
The 600 km long Paroo River passes through the park and periodically floods the basin surrounding the town even if there has been no rain directly in the area as the river vast catchment area. Around Hungerford there are plenty of waterholes to explore and too birdwatch with dozens of species being recorded.
When the river stops flowing it leaves an array of deep waterholes where the local animals and bird gather. Often you’ll see all the iconic Aussie animals within the area like Roos, Echidna’s, Emu’s, feral pigs and dogs right down to sand lizards and if your unlucky Mulga Snakes. The bird list here is nothing short of spectacular with Pelicans, both black and golden Spoonbills, beautiful Red breasted robins to the ever cheeky Myna birds.
The town has several people that rescue local wildlife and if you're lucky like we were you might be able to hold and feed a Joey. Within the police station yard it was pretty amazing to see Red and Grey roos hopping around together both adults and little ones, this funnily enough is the rehab area for the injured and sick animals that the local police officer rescues, plus across the road from police station is the community hall where local Lea Macken displays a huge range of her photographic work to raise money to buy food and formula for the animals.
A good experience if your in the area is to stop near the pub, and walk down along the Wild Dog Fence and do the loop down to the local cemetery and back. I can guarantee that within a few minutes you’ll feel the outback heat beating down on you, little beads of sweat may appear then the onslaught of thousands of little black sticky flies will have you waving the Aussie salute over and over.
The area is renown for the fine red sand and no matter how thick your socks are or how new you're fancy hiking boots maybe, fine red sand will find a way between your toes, but just remember this is true outback country. Its when you get back to the Royal Hotel that you deserve a beer in the comfort of air-con, but just imagine how Henry Lawson felt as he trudged the 215 km in the dead heart of summer taking him 3 weeks to get here and back to Bourke.
While Hungerford might not be on anyones destination list, I think its a pretty good place to stop at for a few hours and to explore the once bubbling town. It might not be here forever but where else can you grab a cold one in a historical Cobb & Co pub, walk the heritage listed Dog Fence and discover an array of local wildlife all within a stones throw of a small area.