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 18th 2021
Red Dirt, Sand Hills, Muddy Rivers, and Coolabah Trees
Have you heard of Cunnamulla? I hadn't until I started to plan our outback trip. Like most towns we had never heard of, it was surprisingly interesting and as was the case with all the outback towns, the people were friendly and all had a great sense of humour.
We drove the 250kms from Bourke to Cunnamulla. The road between was a kangaroo killing field. It was a motor vehicle obstacle course and frequently we swerved around the carcasses - they are not small. Thankfully, we were not towing - this would be a caravanner's nightmare. Crows lingered at some carcasses, reluctant to leave their prize, and we were lucky not to hit them - they are obstinate birds. Whistling kites were amongst the crows on some of the roadkill and a couple of times we saw wedge-tailed eagles feeding.
We only spotted a couple of live kangaroos but there was no shortage of emus. The first that crossed the road in front of us joined a half a dozen young on the verge. Most of the emus were well off the road and it's a good thing too. As we neared town, we stopped and waited for a small flock of five to leave the road.
Cunnamulla is a small town of just over a thousand people. It's been around for a while. The explorer Thomas Mitchell passed through in 1846 and Cobb & Co started the town in 1869. It's warm and quiet, a place where you can allow life to move at a slower pace, and that's not the only reason you should visit.
We chose the morning of a 33-degree day for a visit to the Cunnamulla Sandhills, where we planned to follow the walking trails. The sandhills are a tourist attraction and Cunnamulla claims they are amongst the best in Australia. Adventurous souls, not us, can hire sand boards in town and surf the sandhills.
We walked some way about the sandhills. There were emu tracks and kangaroo poo, but no doubt the animals had sought out a cooler place. We selected a path up the back of the dunes that was not too steep; we are not great hikers and made it to the top. We could see for miles across flat plains.
The Artesian Time Tunnel, museum and art gallery are at the Cunnamulla Fella Centre. An old mine lift takes visitors underground. We watched a movie about the Artesian Basin, which is considered to be the world's largest underground river and provides vital water to many in the outback. The first bore into the Artesian Basin occurred here in the 1800s. The museum has a large original photo of the bore from that time.
We wandered about the museum and the many curious items there. We saw a wooden leg, a telephone exchange, an 1800s Ediphone recorder, a Peters Ice-Cream cone-shaped sign, the 20,000-year-old shoulder bone of a dinosaur, old office equipment, cameras and sewing machines, to mention but some of them.
When we visited, the art gallery was displaying work by Lynne Barnes, all magnificent portrayals of the Australian Outback and all incredibly expensive, some above six thousand dollars. The displays are regularly changed and feature artists from local areas and across Australia.
The Artesian Time Tunnel can be contacted on 4655 8470 and can be found at the Cunnamulla Fella Centre at Centenary Park on 2 Jane Street. Click here to visit the Artesian Time Tunnel page on the Paroo Shire Council website and click here for the museum and art gallery page.
Allan Tannock Weir
We drove out to the Allan Tannock Weir for a lazy afternoon. After a top-up of Bushman's fly and insect repellent, an absolute must, we wandered along the banks of the Warrego River, our fourth river on our outback trip.
There are coolabah trees here, springing up from the red dirt. It was the first time I had ever seen any - they are impressive. We passed a picnic area and a toilet. There is a boat ramp and I believe swimming and fishing are allowed 200 metres from the Weir. The day is hot with not many birds about but we do see ducks and pelicans.
This is part of the historic stock route and was then called Keane's Crossing. The Weir was completed in 1991. The Allan Tannock Weir is on Weir Road, on the Warrego River, five kilometres south of Cunnamulla.
I like to explore areas on foot, so I can wander about and look at the old buildings, the statues, memorials and whatever else I can find. The streets of Cunnamulla were quiet, perhaps because of the heat. I have a bit of a laugh in a café when I looked up to the tall roof and saw there, above the windows, with no hope of access, a door labelled 'Complaints Department.'
One very long building with upper and lower verandahs houses the hotel and a number of other businesses and another is painted a stand-out blue. The post office was built in 1890 and remains largely the same today as it was then although the phone towers behind it make its place in the modern world.
In front of the Paroo Shire Hall in Jane Street is a bronze statue of the Cunnamulla Fella created by sculptor Archie Sinclair. The statue, which was unveiled in 2005, was erected as a tribute to Stan Coster and Slim Dusty, who wrote a song of the same name, and to all the ringers of the bush. Click here for the lyrics of the song.
In 1924, a bright white fountain was erected in John Street as a memorial to WWI soldiers. Heritage-listed now, it sits on a grassed area next to a cannon, and besides a palm tree that was originally planted on the 50th anniversary of WWII.
Near the fountain, on the side of a building, I came across the Cunnamulla Coach Stop mural. A bright red horse-drawn mail coach is surrounded by mileage markers and the names of more towns and stops than I cared to count. The mural was painted to commemorate the importance of Cobb & Co to the town's history.
I come across old machinery; a steam engine, a tractor, and a wagon cart are accompanied by information boards. There are vast expanses of lawns and an undercover playground suitable for young children and toddlers. There are also a number of picnic tables and a BBQ. In all, it is a great place to stop for a picnic, to stretch your legs or give the kids a chance to run and play.
Getting There, Accommodation and Visitor Information
Cunnamulla is in outback Queensland. Rex Airlines flies from Brisbane to Cunnamulla via Towoomba and St. George, a trip of just over 3 hours. It is about 790 kilometres west of Brisbane by road, 625 kilometres from Dubbo via Bourke and around 200 kilometres south of Charleville. Rail services from Brisbane to Charleville connect with a coach service to Cunnamulla and busses run between Toowoomba and Cunnamulla. Click here to visit the Cunnamulla Tourism Getting Here page.
We stayed in a holiday cottage when we visited, but there is a range of accommodation available across hotels, motels, cottages, cabins, station stays, and a tourist park. Click here to visit the Cunnamulla Tourism Accommodation page.
The Cunnamulla Fella Visitor Information Centre at Centenary Park on 2 Jane St, Cunnamulla, can be contacted on (07) 4655 8470, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to visit the Cunnamulla Tourism website.
I've really appreciated your recent outback articles as well as the Sarina one - because they have an effective balance of sought after written information with photography - it seems effective because (for example) I'm interested in visiting Cunnamulla, but have no idea what to expect, I think in that sense these articles are very clarifying and the amount of photos are (essentially) well balanced hence not giving too much away but giving away sufficient levels of detail for the purpose of the article.