The Central West is the heart of Outback Queensland, a place built by pioneers and stockmen.
Gilberton Outback Retreat
Lyn and Rob French’s 35,612ha cattle station is rich with natural wonders, from panoramic landscapes to abundant flora and fauna; Gilberton is also internationally significant for the conservation of its cultural heritage. Home to seven generations of the Martell-French family, Rob’s first ancestor here was a teamster who bought the property in 1869 to supply meat for the butcher’s shop he opened during the north Queensland gold rush.
Guests can help themselves to supplies in a shop-sized pantry, cooked meals can be delivered or you can join the family at the homestead, where the dining-room walls are lined with photos dating back to the 1800s. Rob and Lyn tell stories about the joys, challenges and resilience of living in such remote reaches. Today, there’s little left of the once-thriving Gilberton Township. After the gold rush collapsed in 1873, prospectors were chased off by Aborigines, but the Martell family dug in and stayed to develop their cattle property.
So our prayers were answered by camping at the Working Sheep and Cattle Station at Charlotte Plains just 50kms East of Cunnamulla. Robyn runs the station on her own after her husband passed away 2 years ago and with the drought, has been chasing the tourist dollar to supplement her income. The property is the size of the island of Singapore, so she is a real trooper, not wanting to give it up as she was born and bred there.
Deon and Lane Stent-Smith are a classic example of the entrepreneurs in this region and they operate Shandonvale Station, a working property two hours from Longreach. Down to earth and keen to give you a taste of the real Australia, the enterprising couple delivers this in spades. Shandonvale Station caters for a wide audience. For the adventurous there’s heli-mustering, herding sheep in buggies, a gun range and bush tours. Young families will love the chance to get back to nature, getting up close and even feeding the animals. Sheep, pigs, geese, emus, goats, camels, horses, pelicans, deer and kangaroos are all on hand.
If you’re after a slower pace and want to disconnect and relax in a unique setting, there’s the treetop artesian spa that’s perfect with a bottle of bubbly at sunset or you can just sit back on the veranda of the 100-year-old Shearer’s Quarters and enjoy the serenity of the wide open space. It’s not unusual to be surprised at how quiet it is out here and often the only noises you’ll hear are the birds or the wind whistling through the paddocks.
To top all this off, Shandonvale provides luxury accommodation and delicious home-cooked meals. The Shearer’s Quarters have been recently renovated, with interior styling by Deon. From the outside, the quarters have retained their rustic charm while inside has all the creature comforts you’d expect from up-market accommodation and it can sleep up to eight people.
Barcaldine’s magical retreat Lara Wetlands
After moving to Lara Station, nearly 30km south of Barcaldine, in 2009 and finding she and husband Michael were the owners of a beautiful wetlands oasis, the idea of sharing their peaceful retreat was always at the back of Jo’s mind. The property boasts a wetlands area that has existed for more than 100 years in a clearing among the eucalypts, so Jo set about fencing off a 2 square kilometre area – 70 per cent of it water – constructing an ablution block and clearing unpowered campsites, and opened for business at the start of May this year 2014.
So far 65 species of birds have been recorded, and the Birdwatchers Association of Queensland has expressed interest in mapping out the full extent of avian inhabitants. Veterans of all conflicts are especially welcome at Lara; Jo hopes her place will work its magic on troubled souls in the same way it has been helping her. A camp kitchen has recently been erected, complete with sink and pit for communal camp-oven cooking, but perhaps the crowning glory is a hot artesian pool. It’s been the perfect place for Jo and her friends to end their day after cattle mustering, submerged in warm thermal water with a wine in hand.
Noonbah (which means Red Soil) is a working beef cattle station south west of Longreach, in western QLD. There is a vast array of different landforms which gives us a wide range of habitat for different species of plants, birds, and animals. From red sandplains to sandstone ridges peppered with ghost gums, to arid Acaia woodland to channel country through to spinifex covered hard country. It keeps us endlessly fascinated.
Boom and bust country we seem to bounce between droughts and flooding with short periods in between. Noonbah is now in it’s fourth generation of Emmotts. Noonbah offers bush camping and natural history tours. Angus Emmott is a well regarded natural historian who has featured on ABC Conversations and ABC 7.30 report, he offers intimate natural history tours on the property.
Bonus Downs, a privately owned property run by Lyle and Madonna Connolly, is the ultimate outback historical experience. You get to experience the magnificent Bonus Downs homestead, find yourself on a tranquil bushwalk or take in the day’s activities or absorb the atmosphere of the outback. Whatever your interest, there is something for everyone at Bonus Downs. Bonus Downs offers good old fashioned country hospitality in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
Bonus Downs is 46 kilometres south west of Mitchell on the Bollon Road, has bitumen to the door and is only half an hour from the Mitchell spa. It has accommodation in the rustic Jackeroos Quarters. Camping is also available in the shearing shed or bring your own tent. Caravans, motorhomes and campervans are all welcome, powered sites and water is available. Fly ins welcome and school groups.