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Outer Space and Other Reasons to Visit Charleville

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by Gayle Beveridge (subscribe)
Gayle Beveridge is a past winner of the Boroondara Literary Awards and her work has appeared in Award Winning Australian Writing. Gayle is passionate about family, writing, photography, and with Victoria’s beautiful Bass Coast which she now calls home.
Published September 26th 2021
Outer Space, Bilbies, and War History
We made the trip to Charleville from Bourke, a short two-hour drive, and we might as well have been crossing continents. For a time, the land was barren, open plains as far as the eye can see. Only the smallest shrubs had made it home.

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The terrain around Charleville - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

Then, as if a line had been drawn, the road was traversing dense bushland. True, there were no giant gums there. These were smaller trees, but they were firmly rooted in rich red dirt. There seemed to be no undergrowth. It is as if nothing else could take root there.

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Hotel Corones built in 1929 - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

This is emu country and we frequently encountered flocks. The wild goats we usually saw were not present. We learned there was a price on their head and they were a means of ready cash. Herded by the locals, the goats are slaughtered at the Charleville abattoir and sold overseas.

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On the road to Charleville - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

The kangaroo roadkill was less too but we did come upon some. Crows, whistling kites and eagles feed upon the unfortunate roos and I was quick enough to photograph a wedged-tailed eagle perched on a carcass. Then we were there, in the middle of outback Queensland, where we'd come to see the stars and the planets and a raft of other interesting things.

The Cosmos Centre–Astronomy by Day

The Cosmos Centre was our first stop, undoubtedly the town's premier tourist attraction. We snacked at the Milky Way Cafe and booked some observatory tours. Before leaving, we wandered through the Astronomy by Day section - such an interesting place.

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One of a range of informative posters you can get for yourself at the Cosmos Centre - Photo courtesy of the Charleville Cosmos Centre Facebook Page

Different types of meteorites are on display and we were able to hold each in our hands. The weight of one was highlighted when we balanced a like-sized ordinary rock in the other hand. The heavy meteorite was coloured a deep maroon to black and its surface was rippled like beach sand. Another was small as a five-cent piece. The base was convex and there was a small raised edge at the sides, like a raindrop photographed in slow motion. The guide shone a torch beneath it and the edges were so thin as to be almost transparent. A slice of another is the meteorite equivalent of stainless steel - had we not been told, I'm sure we would have taken it to be steel. A slice of yet another had amber, like transparent bubbles amongst the metal.

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A 'space rock' in the Astronomy By Day section of the Cosmos Centre - Photo courtesy of the Charleville Cosmos Centre Facebook Page

We watched a short movie about our galaxy and the greater universe and had fun with the interactive displays. I feed two dollars into a set of scales and discovered that my weight on the moon is only 15kgs. Another display showed the consequence to Australia and the world of the impact of different sized meteors. In yet another hologram of the ancient Greek astronomer, Ptolemy, delivered a lecture of the history of astronomy. This was a fun place and I couldn't help but think how much our grandchildren would enjoy the experience.

The Cosmos centre is at Qantas Drive (off Matilda Highway), Charleville. Click here for more details. Entry to the interactive centre is free. They can be contacted on (07) 4654 7771, by email on enquiries@cosmoscentre.com

Big Sky Observatory Experience

We returned to the Cosmos Centre at 9pm for the Big Sky Observatory Experience. We were taken to a shed housing several telescopes and as the roof parted and slid away, we were staring at the Milky Way. I had lived so long amongst city lights that I had forgotten how magnificent our night sky can be.

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The Milky Way - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

The telescopes are GPS guided and computer aligned and we viewed five different things, including Jupiter and Saturn. Saturn's rings and one of its moons could be clearly seen through the telescope. So awesome an experience was it that we booked to do it again before we left.

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Jupiter through the telescope, very like what we viewed - Nielander, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Big Sky Observatory Experience is available three times each evening from April to October and once a night on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from November to March at the Cosmos Centre at Qantas Drive (off Matilda Highway), Charleville. Click here for more details. They can be contacted on (07) 4654 7771, by email at enquiries@cosmoscentre.com

Sun Viewing–Our Star

We made our third trip to the Cosmos Centre for the Sun Viewing Experience. We got the opportunity to view the sun through the telescope. Between each person's viewing, the telescope had to be realigned as the movement between the earth and the sun is quick when seen this way.

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Our guide setting up the telescope for the sun viewing - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

We saw several sunspots, some materialised as we watched. Then there were solar flares, small but noticeable nonetheless. The largest we saw, which appeared as only millimetres through the telescope, was estimated to be 50,000kms long.

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The sun viewed through a telescope, (not from our viewing, but very like it) - Image by Dylan O'Donnell, deography.com, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sun Viewing is available twice daily between April and October and by appointment November to March at the Cosmos Centre at Qantas Drive (off Matilda Highway), Charleville. Click here for more details. They can be contacted on (07) 4654 7771, by email on enquiries@cosmoscentre.com

WWII Secret Tour

It came as a surprise to us that Charleville, all the way out here in outback Queensland, had a military history. In WWII, 3,500 Americans were stationed at an airbase in Charleville and, although most of the base was demolished, there are some remains. This is a convoy tour and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.

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The building that housed the top secret Norden Bomb-sight in WWII - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

We travelled first to a small concrete hut. The building was used to house the 'Norden Bomb Sight', one of the most closely guarded secrets of the US Military in WWII. Inside the building, along with wartime photos of the base and historical data, is a Norden Bomb Sight and a Norden Gyroscope. We learned the Bomb Sight was purchased on eBay for $1,475 for the display and we are told its importation from the US caused considerable angst and it ended up in the hands of the Federal Police.

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The Norden Bomb Sight - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

Much paperwork was completed before it finally arrived at its Charleville home as a museum piece. The Gyroscope was restored and donated. It was clear that the people of Charleville are prepared to go to some extraordinary lengths to enhance their tourism industry.

One of the airplane hangars still exists and is now used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. We did not go in but viewed it through the airport gates. Parked on the tarmac in front of the hangar was one of the RFDS planes.

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The remains of the WWII ablutions block - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

We moved on; there are seven locations on this trip. We saw the remains of a mess hall, an ablutions block, of bitumen baths used for delousing, and a dance hall. Mostly what is left when we visited were concrete floors, but the locals were making plans to rebuild some of this for the tourists. Click here for more details.

The Steiger Vortex Rainmaking Guns

On the way back into town, we stopped at a park and have a look at some Steiger Vortex Guns. In 1902, after a protracted period of drought, the guns, four-metre-high steel cannons fired vertically into clouds, were used in the hope of releasing rain.

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Vortex Guns - an early 1900's failed rain making effort in Charleville - Photo copyright Roger Marien

The guns, invented in the 1880s, were used successfully in Europe to dispel hail bearing clouds. They did not, however, work in Charleville. Nonetheless, they are an interesting piece of history. The Vortex Guns are in Graham Andrews Parklands, Sturt Street, Charleville.

Warrego River Walk

I was keen to do the Warrego River Walk, a 2.8-kilometre return walk on a bitumen path that runs along the river. Every 300 metres or so, there was exercise equipment and a seat. In a couple of places, ropes hung from gum trees and children swung out over the river.

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An amazing river gum on the banks of the Warrego River, Charleville - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

I passed a ute half-buried in mud, an obvious flood victim. There will be no floods while we visited. The river had dried up in part and at the end of the walk, I left the path and walked along the river bed.

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Flood damage - by the Warrego River, Charleville - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

There was a surprising amount of broken glass, some worn smooth, and I found an old bottle, maybe not even three inches high. The base is uneven and there are bubbles in the glass. It is my treasure now.

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Exercise equipment is scattered along the Warrego River Walk - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

The Warrego River is part of the Murray-Darling Basin. It is an intermittent river, which means it is seasonal and ceases to flow every year or at least twice every five years. It begins in the Carnavon Ranges north of Charleville and joins the Darling River upstream of Louth in New South Wales. On the 21st of April 1990, the Warrego River flooded, peaking at 8.54 metres. More than 1,000 homes were inundated and the town had to be evacuated. There are photos of the flooding at the Historic House Museum in Alfred Street.

Bilby Conservation Show

We ventured off to the Parks and Wildlife complex for The Bilby Conservation Show. We watched a documentary about the conservation efforts and were taken outside to view the bilbies which are part of a breeding program.

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A wooden bilby statue - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

The bilbies were in a pen lit with red light and we saw two of them; what a treat. They are small and quite fast. Camera flash was not allowed, but I managed a couple of photos without it on low shutter speed.

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A bilby (at night) at the Parks and Wildlife Bilby Conservation Centre in Charleville - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

Click here for more information. The Bilby Facility is in King Street, behind the Visitor Information Centre.

Historic House Museum

The Historic House Museum is housed in the oldest building in Charleville. Built in 1889, it was originally the chambers and manager's residence of the Queensland National Bank.

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Built in 1889 Historic House Museum is the oldest building in Charleville

What was in the museum; there is simply too much to list it all. Inside the building, picture such things as butter churns, weather station equipment, a telephone set in a tin, railway signal lamps, candle makers, opium bottles, tobacco papers, boar tusks, Coolgardie safes, dingo traps, birds eggs, crockery and cutlery, photographs of times past and more, more, more.

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One of the rooms in the Historic House Museum - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

Outside, the collection was also vast. We saw, among things, a set of TAA aeroplane steps, old wagons with oversized spoked wheels, tractors, cars, trucks, a bus, Furphy water carts, a telephone box, a rail ambulance, early powered lawnmowers, (and some not powered).

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Just one of the interesting vehicles in the Historic House Museum sheds - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

The Historic House Museum is at 87 Alfred Street. They can be contacted on (07) 4654 3349, by email on historichousemuseum@bigpond.com or click here to visit their Facebook page.

Getting There, Accommodation and Visitor Information

Charleville is around 740 kilometres west of Brisbane on Warrego Way. We drove up from Melbourne (around 1,500 kilometres) via Bourke on sealed roads. Flights are available from Brisbane, Toowoomba and Birdsville, and train and bus services are available from Brisbane. Click here to visit the Travel Planning page of the Experience Charleville website.

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A happy guy in front of our cabin at Charleville - Photo copyright Gayle Beveridge

We stayed at the Bailey Bar Caravan Park, a very pleasant and friendly place, but there are many accommodation options ranging from caravan and cabin parks, hotels, motels, holiday homes, cottages and bush camps. Click here to visit the Experience Charleville's Accommodation Directory.

The Visitor Information Centre, Experience Charleville is at Charleville Railway Station
King St, Charleville. They can be contacted on (07) 4656 8359, by email at info@murweh.qld.gov.au or click here to visit their website.
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Why? Come see the star, the planets, the sun, bilbies, and so much more
When: Whenever you want.
Phone: (07) 4656 8359
Where: Charleville is around 740 kilometres west of Brisbane on Warrego Way.
Your Comment
Tremendous read, just a supportive message to say these sorts of articles are well worth it.
by T. A. Rose (score: 2|517) 278 days ago
I had no idea that WW2 planes were based there but it makes sense as the Japanese did not have the range to bomb them.
by Roger (score: 2|783) 278 days ago
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