History Comes Alive in Outback Queensland: Your Ultimate Bucket List

If you thought history should be left to the faded pages of a dusty library book, then it's time to pack up your pencils and get ready for an Indiana Jones style of adventure that will have you zipping through 95 million years of history, all in a single week and all in Outback Queensland.

And the best place to start is Longreach, a charming outback town of 3,000 people and the birthplace of Qantas, the world's second oldest airline.  With the Stockman's Hall of Fame, historic boat cruises and the opportunity to camp in a real country swag, there's at least a few days of fun just here.

As history buffs, we're out to experience some “firsts and onlies”. Top of our list is the Qantas Founders Museum, a tribute to Australia's iconic flying kangaroo and the only place in the world where you can reach up and touch the belly of a 747 jet, tour two fully equipped passenger planes, and have your photograph taken inside the wing's engine. And that's before you even step inside the museum and sift through the amazing memorabilia.   

The Qantas Founders Museum is also home to Australia's first passenger jet, the Boeing 707, VH-XBA. This is the same plane that brought a young Queen Elizabeth to Australia in 1959, the Beatles to Brisbane in 1964 and Michael Jackson and Madonna to rock concerts around the world. In the 1980s, the 707 was snaffled up by a wealthy Sheik and transformed into a luxury sky hotel complete with crystal lamps reputed to be worth $45,000 each and gold seat buckles still on show. I must admit, it's a lot fancier than anything I've flown.

Qantas is not the only mode of transport celebrated in Longreach and we venture down the main street to the Kinnon & Co store, where Richard Kinnon is waiting take us on a ride that promises to tickle our historical tonsils – a gallop along the original mail track on Australia's last operating Cobb & Co Stage Coach.

Like many adventurers before him, Mr Cobb came out from the USA in 1876 looking for gold, but struck the jackpot with a vision to set up the finest network of transport in the country and the first franchise of its type in the world.  In its heyday, Cobb & Co. ran 6,000 horses across the nation travelling some 30,000 kilometres every single day.

 “The scale was second to none,” claims Richard as my family and I scamper to the top of a century old buggy and squeeze our denim clad bottoms onto a single plank behind mountains of old-fashioned trunks. Before us are five magnificent black horses foaming at the bit to get going.  

The top three seats, we are told, were the most sought after positions in the 12 seater carriage and the young ladies of the times preferred to sit up here than face the prospect of smelling the armpits - and possibly fighting the advances - of the drunks who travelled below.

Luxury it may be, but without seat belts we spend much of the ride clinging to each other as the carriage bolts and bobs across the track.

“Don't worry,” yells Richard as he steers the five horse-powered beast. “You might be eating dust. But at least it's organic dust out here.”

After a snoozy night at the Longreach Motor Inn, our family decides that you can't have a historical holiday without going back to the very beginning of time and that means driving a couple of hours north west toward Winton to visit The Age of Dinosaurs, a not-for-profit organisation with a single agenda; to bring dinosaurs to the world. 

“The Age of Dinosaurs is not just a museum,” booms deep-voiced George an enthusiastic fossil expert as he hoists up one bone after another for us to inspect. “It's a living heritage and it's uncovering the secrets of the past.”

It's also the only place in the southern hemisphere where the public can get their hands-on dinosaurs by touring the production shed like we are today, volunteering to prepare dinosaurs (that is drilling the soil off the bones), or taking part in a dinosaur dig each August at a cost of a few thousand dollars.

First discovered in Queensland's outback just over a decade ago, 40 or so dinosaurs have since been dug up, and are now scattered in crates waiting to be glued back together. 

If you think you get too much homework, spare a thought for poor George who claims that with more dinosaurs in this shed than the rest of the world combined, he and his two colleagues have 25 to 30 years of work ahead of them.  Yikes!

Love the Jurassic era? Then you have come to the right place. Just west of Winton is Lark Quarry where you can see evidence of the only dinosaur stampede in the world while two hours due north, Richmond is home to a display of pre-historic marine creatures.

For us it's time to jump back in the car and drive to Carisbrooke Station, a 50,000-acre working property that once held 8000 head of sheep or cattle.

“We are still in the suburbs here boys,” says Carisbrooke's gentle owner Charlie Phillot as we admire his 20-kilometre triangular plot of land. “The next station is half a million acres. That's when you get out to the real country”.

Like most farmers around here, Charlie wears the typical country uniform; RM boots, moleskins, a checked long-sleeved shirt and an akubra, which he touches every time a stranger comes into his field of friendship.

Standing on one of Queensland's most impossibly beautiful locations overlooking the newly green landscape thanks to this year's rains, he has nothing but admiration for the land. “It's just so perfect,” he says. “Everything produces after the rain. Things that have been dormant for years come to life.”

Over the course of the day, Charlie introduces us to native vegetation spitting out facts like a science teacher flipping through a biology book.  There's the bell fruit tree (it has a short life, only lasting 12 to 15 years), mock holly (which produces flowers like the hibiscus), Mitchell grass (its roots extend 3 metres deep in search of water) and so much more.

But the real history here is in the oversized artwork scattered throughout the station grounds. Just a couple of kilometres from the homestead are the most magnificently preserved bora rings - perfectly formed circles made from dozens of carefully chosen rocks – around which thousands of aboriginal feet must have once danced. Even today you can see the dimples in the red soil where hundreds of pairs of feet stamped s the rhythm sticks rang out in jubilation. 

Ends.


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