Most people think of the outback as dry, arid and uncomfortable, but most probably don’t remember that millions of years ago it was once an massive inland sea. There is water out here, maybe not all on the surface but its around. Under most outback destinations the great Artesian Basin flows beneath the ground covering nearly 30% of Queensland land mass, and it was the discovery of this underground sea that really accelerated life in the outback.
One of those places is Quilpie, 1000km west of Brisbane on all good sealed roads. Part of SW Queensland Natural Science loop, there’s so much to see and do in and around the town. Surrounded by remote and isolated National parks, natural museums, sunning landscapes and quirky outback events, Quilpie needs to be visited at least once.
Getting over the fear of an isolated drive should be thrown out the window as the ‘Adventurer Way’ follows major highways for most of the journey where you can still enjoy the nice things of life and stay on sealed roads all the way to your destination.
These days Quilpie has a population of just under 1,000 people but this quaint and essential town is alive and bustling most days. After setting up camp its an easy stroll around town to any of the nine museums in the towns limits, including the fully restored rail head where you can explore the rail history inside the station and post office complete with working gear from the past. In the tourist info centre next door they have many displays from the surrounding area including pastoral history, fossils and rock displays.
Quilpie is home to the stunning boulder opal where water and minerals form inside an egg shaped rock to form opal ( mind you this takes thousands of years to form ). It was in the 1880s when fossickers were in the area discovering the rich and beautiful boulder opals, creating an outback rush.
By the way, Quilpie shire has set aside a few acres on the towns outer-limits where budding prospectors can dig for opal. Several times a week local miners dump loads of rock and dirt within the grounds for visitors to dig around in. If you don’t find anything ( like us ) there’s alway some old mine relics to checkout too with a few info boards nearby.
To see a stunning arrangement of colour, head to St Finbarr’s Roman Catholic Church in town. The alter has been layered with hundreds of small opal coloured rocks for an amazing effect. Back in 1976, Father John Ryan commissioned a local miner to decorate a section of the church and now recognised world wide for the arrangement and stunning colours of the opal.
If all this history does your head in, why not head a few kilometres south of town to Baldy Rock lookout. Informal walking tracks lead you to the top of weathering flat top mesa mountains. With 360 degree views this place is stunning at sunset or sunrise watching the sun glowing over the desolate landscape nearby. During the year Quilpie hosts plenty of events that include the outback golf tournament, rodeos, motorbike carnivals and camp drafting.
While walking around town, keep an eye out for the towns water source, a 2900 foot bore that has been sunk down to tap into the Great Artesian Basin. Remarkably the original one was sunk back in 1933 with primitive gear but is still going strong today. Stats say that it can pump out 1.3 million gallons of water a day at a temperature of 75’ Celsius. To over come this problem a lot of the houses around town have cooling tanks to calm the water down to a usable temperature. Speaking of water don’t be put off by the sulphur smell of the water, you’ll get used to it after a day or two washing in it, just an outback thing.
Quilpie was earmarked back in 1911 to have a rail way pass through the area opening up opportunities for employment and pastoral leases. But when it reached the town in 1917 the line had a halt put on it due to war time scarcities and labour. At the height of the build nearly 300 men were busily working on the line but sadly were called away for the war effort. During the first year a staggering 22,000 cattle, 29,000 sheep and over 1,500 tonnes of wool were railed back towards the east coast. All this from only one rail movement a week. Unfortunately the rail didn’t go any further than Quilpie, and today its known as ‘the end of the line’.
So don’t be put off by the remoteness of Quilpie, its a stunning area with a host of services and great people. The surrounding area may be desolate and dry but the area is rich full of history and local gems. Pull those boots on and head to western Queensland, you never now, you may even head a little further west for some dirt on your tyres.