Central West Queensland is a vast area. Bordered by the Northern Territory and South Australia to the west the region covers about 400,000 square kilometres but is sparsely populated. Towns such as Longreach, Winton, Birdsville, Blackall, Barcaldine, Boulia and Muttaburra help to tether this strong agricultural district. In parts criss-crossed by the waterways and rivulets that make up the famous Channel country, this region was the birthplace of the blue singlet, the shearer’s ‘Jacky Howe’, that embodiment of hard work and bush life. It was also here that it’s said Banjo Patterson spurred on by a regional story, penned our unofficial anthem, Waltzing Matilda in 1895 while staying at a homestead just outside of Winton. The town has a ‘Waltzing Matilda Centre’ dedicated to the mythology and history surrounding the ballad.
The lives of early white settlers are commemorated at Longreach’s Stockman’s Hall of Fame, while Barcaldine commemorates Australian Workers at their Heritage Centre. The Tree of Knowledge was a ghost gum located in front of the Barcaldine railway station and it was here that the workers of the 1891 Shearer’s Strike met and also here that the beginnings of the Labour Movement is said to have begun. The stately tree until it was poisoned in 2006 symbolised the foundation of the organised representation of labour in Queensland.
Sheep lay at the heart of the area’s early history. Nearly every town in Central Queensland was dependent on the white gold that offered employment, from the shearer’s, rouse-abouts, stockmen and bullock-team drivers to the scouring plants so necessary for the washing and processing of wool. The numerous wool sheds in the region created a massive demand for boiling and scouring plants. The Blackall Wool scour, established in 1908 was steam operated and with its retirement in 1978 it quickly became a historic site and I believe remains the only complete example of its kind left in Australia. While the shearing shed at Acacia Downs near Muttaburra once served as the meatworks in Hughenden back in the 1880s. Brought to Acacia Downs during the first World War it sits high off the ground. Shorn sheep are pushed down chutes and wool bales are also dropped from a height flattening the ground below. If you take the road from Blackall via Barcaldine to Longreach (a drive just shy of 2 and a half hours) you’ll see firsthand the importance of the wool industry. The wide roads were constructed so that bullock teams pulling wagons piled with wool bales could turn in the main street if required.
The original inhabitants of the region were the Iningai people. Once one of the largest Aboriginal tribes in Central West Queensland their territory stretched west of the dividing range through Barcaldine to Longreach and as far north as Aramac and Muttaburra. First Nation people were invaluable stockman, renowned for their ability and knowledge, and many an early settler would have been grateful for their knowledge of country.
(Image – Self travelling through the area a few years back)