Special outback tour
A special tour way
out west to the real outback, leaving from Brisbane
If enough demand we
will also go in March, still visiting the Bilby Centre but
without the Bilby Festival.
Join in the Bilby
Festival, see brigalow country, mulga country, the red sand
dunes of the Channel Country, fossilised remains of
Australia's largest dinosaur and more recent
monument to a caterpillar, and of course red
kangaroos, emus, colourful parrots ...
You'll be traveling
with research ecologist Dr Ronda Green and her son Darren, an
experienced amateur naturalist and keen nature photographer, who
have led many trips to Currawinya National Park and other parts
of the southern outback, but this time we're heading out just a
our regular outback tours here
We have been fully
vaccinated for Covid and ask that our guests be also. We travel
with hand sanitiser and masks, keep the vehicle interior clean,
and check daily news of Covid
We always travel with plenty of water and other provisions,
spare parts for the vehicle and a good first aid kit just in
case of any mis-haps, but so far have never faced anything more
serious than a flat tyre.
Back to our regular outback tours
3rd September 2022
Brisbane around 7.30am.
We don't wait for the outback to view wildlife, but stop at
the small town of Gatton for morning tea and for birding at
the hides at two small lakes on the university campus.
Although we don't generally see rare and threatened species
here, there's usually a remarkable variety of waterbirds for
such a small water body, often including both species of
whistling duck (plumed and wandering), pink-eared duck,
stilts, spoonbills, pelicans and others. While enjoying our
morning tea we'll also give you your copy of information
sheets about the ecosystems and wildlife we expect to see
along the way. as we head out west.
Then it's up and over the mountains of the Great Dividing
Range, passing much typical Australian bushland dominated by Eucalyptus
trees as we travel. Take a good look, as the vegetation we
travel through later today and during the next few days will
be progressively different. The Main Range volcano (active
about 25 million years ago) shaped the high country here,
which catches much rain from clouds blowing in from the coast,
the fertile volcanic soil and good rainfall allowing tall
eucalypt forest and rainforest to grow, although most of the
latter has been cleared for agriculture.
Once we pass through
Toowoomba and descend from the Great Dividing Range, we will
be traveling over the incredibly important Great Artesian
Basin, a layer of porous rocks beneath the ground surface,
mainly sandstone, holding very slow-moving water, stretching
across about 1/5 of our continent. Much of this flat,
low-lying area was part of a great inland sea in the
Cretaceous, known as the Eromanga Sea.
There is of course water above ground as well, and over the
next few days we'll also be crossing through a couple of major
river drainage basins which have important influences on our
ecosystems and human endeavours. Before we reach
Toowoomba, any river or creek empties out eventually
into the sea. We then travel through the Murray-Darling
Catchment which empties in the sea southeast of Adelaide and
into the Lake Eyre Catchment which accumulates into Lake Eyre
in north South Australia
We'll now be traveling one of the routes taken by the Cobb and
Co. coaches that provided the main transport in the late
1800's, on much rougher roads than exist nowadays. The
countryside will be getting progressively flatter and drier,
and the soils generally less rich, although there are still
some regions of relative fertility, and even the driest of
areas experience floods now and then.
Eucalyptus trees, the main trees (several hundred
species) of Australian bushlands, are well-adapted to
droughts, but they have their limits. As we head west
they are progressively shorter and scarcer, and various Acacia
species become increasingly common. There are some Eucalyptus
species that persist well into the dry western areas,
including the picturesque river red gums (Eucalyptus
camaldulensis) along many of the outback watercourses,
and the famous coolibah tree (Eucalyptus
coolabah) of Waltzing Matilda fame, which manage to
survive, sometimes for centuries, in areas too dry for the
river red gums.
We'll soon be heading through the "Brigalow
Belt", with woodlands dominated by the brigalow trees (Acacia
harpophylla) and stretching from central Queensland to
central NSW, although much of it has been now cleared for
agriculture and the brigalow woodland is regarded as an
endangered ecosystem. We'll stop to investigate these famous
Australian trees, which will very probably be in flower
in early September, and a few other species associated with
them. Like most Australia acacias ("wattles") brigalow has
true leaves only in the first few weeks of it life, the
leafstalk (petiole) then taking over the job of
photosynthesis, and known as a phyllode ("leaf-like").
Brigalow are tall and long-lived compared to many other Acacia
species, with dark bark and silvery phyllodes adapted to
deflecting much of the sun's heat.
Good hearty meals are
on offer at Moonie, so we'll be stopping there for
lunch. Growing amongst the eucalypts and acacias as we
approach Moonie are Callitris trees (a true native
conifer, related to cypresses, and much harvested for its
termite-resistant timber). Callitris woodlands used to
be far more extensive but have been diminished through
clearing, grazing of livestock and feral animals on young
trees, and severe fires. There are also the conifer-like
bull-oaks (Allocasuarina luehmannii), which, like their
relatives the sheoaks, are actually flowering plants but
have woody fruits superfically somewhat similar to cypress
cones, and which the red-tailed black cockatoo often feeds
on, although unlike their cousins the glossy black
cockatoos they mostly depend on eucalypt seeds. Bull-oaks
produce the hardest commercially-available timber of all
our native trees. By now we may also start
seeing a few birds and lizards we don't find near the coast,
such as apostlebirds (pictured to the right), so called
because they often travel around in flocks of about twelve.
They belong to a family of birds unique to Australia, with
only two species, themselves and the white-winged chough (not
related to the northern hemisphere birds also know as
choughs). We may be lucky enough to see choughs as well.
Then it's on to St George, at the edge of what we consider the
true outback, past all the big sorghum crops and other such
agriculture. By now we'll be in mulga (Acacia aneura)
country which stretches across much of Australia's
outback. The tough wood has been much used by humans not
just for the last couple of centuries but for many thousands
of years. Tiny glands at the base of the phyllodes (the
leaf-like structures) secrete a sweet substance that attracts
ants. It is thought that the presence of ants coming for the
sweet meal may protect the bush from grazing by herbivores,
although some think it is for satiating the ants so they don't
eat the valuable pollen . The mulga will most likely have
finished flowering by September but we may see the developing
After checking in at our
motel we'll take a gentle stroll along the banks of the
Balonne River, looking for birds and admiring the river red
gums before dinner. The Balonne, like most rivers we will
cross on this excursion, flows southwards and joins the
Murray-Darling system, by far the most extensive catchment
system of southeastern Australia.
4th September 2022
Now we really do enter the outback!
After leaving the motel soon after dawn we'll stop at the
western end of town, just before the bridge over the Balonne
River, looking for parrots, honeyeaters, waterbirds and
raptors. One of the guides will drive the tour bus across the
long, wide bridge while the rest of us walk across it,
watching for birds before setting foot in true outback country, with its wide open
spaces, red sands, pastoral areas and wilderness.
Emus may casually stroll across the road in the little town of
Bollon, where we'll stop for morning tea, and more often than
not we see brolgas (pictured right) near the river. The
beautiful Major Micthell cockatoos may make an appearance from
here on as well - big pink cockatoos with red and yellow
crests. Koalas may sometimes be seen in the eucalypts by
We move on then to Cunnamulla to head through the Time
Tunnel, learning about the Great Artesian Basin so important
to Australian ecosystems and its human inhabitants. Just
outside is the enormous statue of the Cunnamulla Fella,
commemorating a song by Sam Coster, and sung originally by the
very popular country-western Australian singer Slim Dusty. You
can see a more recent performance of the Cunnamulla
Fella song here
We'll pick up a take-away lunch then so we can maximize our
time at Bowra, and outback cattle station long known as a
hotspot for birds, including many rare species and now owned
by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. We usually spend
a couple of nights in the shearers' quarters, but these have
now been closed, so we will explore what we can, and watch for
birds coming to drink at the dam towards sunset, including
emus and flocks of budgerigars and Major Mitchell cockatoos.
We will hope for a sighting also of the echidnas that are
quite common here, plus red kangaroos and various reptiles,
before heading back to Cunnamulla to enjoy a good hearty
dinner and a night of rest at the Billabong Hotel.
5th September 2022
We'll take a packed
breakfast with us so we can reach a small waterhole near the
town of Eulo by dawn or not long after, as many species of
birds often come here to drink in the early morning.
The small township of Eulo is nearby, with its welcoming sign
informing us its population is 50 people and 1500 lizards.
We'll see the life-size model of a diprotodon, probably the
most famous of the megafauna that used to roam this area: a
bit like an over-grown wombat. One of the specimens found near
Eulo was the size of a hippo, nicknamed Kenny, and the model
for the statue. We'll also visit a small shop which
includes a museum with various fossils and locally-collected
After morning tea we'll cross the Paroo River and explore a
nearby lagoon where we usually see waterbirds, parrots (like
the red-winged parrot pictured here), bee-eaters, woodswallows
and a variety of other birds, returning to Eulo for lunch at
the Eulo Queen Hotel (if you like, you can try their enormous
award-winning sausage, read about the history of the "Queen"
the hotel was named after, and browse the outback paintings on
the walls). The famous Cobb n Co. coaches used to stop at this
hotel before heading south to the NSW border.
Heading north, we will reach Quilpie, on the banks of the
Bulloo River. in time to relax a bit before dinner and maybe
even indulge in an Artesian spa bath before dinner.
Fossil remains of the world's largest lizard (a giant monitor
related to the Komodo "dragon"), diprotodons and other extinct
fauna have been found nearby.
The Bulloo River is unusual in having a catchment all to
itself, the waters not flowing south to the Murray-Darling
like the other rivers we will have crossed by now, nor towards
Lake Eyre. Low hills prevent the shallow flood waters from
lapping over into other catchments, so the waters instead
simply seep into the ground or evaporate over time.
6th September 2022
A walk along the
Bulloo River in the early morning, either before or after
breakfast, may reveal more outback bird species as well as
providing a pleasant stroll in the cool part of the day. Our
main destination then, just a little further west, is
Eromanga, the small town that gave its name to the ancient
inland sea, to visit the Eromanga
Natural History Museum, with the remains of
Australia’s largest dinosaur, which were found yet a little
further to the west of this small town, as well as other
dinosaur fossils, and more recent fossils ( mammals, birds,
reptiles, plants etc.) From their website: "The Eromanga Natural History Museum
is committed to discovering, conserving and showcasing the
fossil, natural and cultural heritage of the upper
Murray/Darling and Lake Eyre/Cooper basins."
We then head back to Quilpie for the night, maybe
first relaxing once more in a spa bath.
7th September 2022
Today we head deeper into the
Channel Country, to the town of Windorah, where we will
spend the next two nights in the Cooper Cabins.
Cooper Creek (formerly called Cooper's Creek) exists as a
series of intertwined channels flowing (when there is any
water for flowing) to the Lake Eyre Basin in South
Australia, one of Australia's largest water catchments.
8th September 2022
Today will largely be a
day for relaxing and photography, but what a place for
it! Not only will we spend some time on the banks of the
famous Cooper Creek, but we will visit some of the spectacular
red sand dunes that Australia's outback is so famous for,
returning to Windorah for the night. We might even enjoy
sipping some "sundowners" in between taking photos as sunset
approaches and the colours change on sand and sky.
9th September 2022
We now travel
on to Charleville, where we will spend the next three nights.
10th/11th September 2022
We will visit the Bilby
Centre and join in the National Bilby Day celebrations
and activities - more details later.
We will also watch the "Bilby Brothers"
video which tells of the plight of the greater bilby and the
efforts of Frank Manthey and Peter McCrae to save them from
becoming extinct like the lesser bilby,
On one of the evenings we will visit the Cosmos Centre to view
the Milky Way far away from any light pollution, and any
planets that happen to be traveling through. We'll also visit
during the day for the astronomy displays and a safe way of
viewing the sun's details.
13th September 2022
This will be the
start of our homeward journey, stopping for the night at Roma,
where we will also visit the Bush Garden, featuring a massive
bottle tree as well as other brigalow species (yes, we are now
entering the Brigalow Belt once more).
14th September 2022
Today will be spent
at a very special botanic park, Myall Park. Started by
David Gordon on his sheep station when he was in his 40's, he
planted and protected many outback species. When I first
visited, he was in his 90's and the range of species was most
impressive. Botanists from around the world, including
Kew Gardens, have made special visits here to see the diverse
collection of outback pants.
Our overnight stay will be in Chinchilla
15th September 2022
The only insect we
are aware of to have a whole building dedicated to it is the Cactoblastis
moth. Prickly pear (Opuntia) was introduced from
South America in the late 1700's, and more were introduced the
following century for hedges and fodder in drought time.
As nothing in Australia would eat cactus stems (although some
birds ate the fruits and dispersed the seeds) it soon got out
of control, and was a major headache and economic nightmare
for farmers and everyone else throughout much of the area
we've traveled through on this tour. A few moths were
introduced from Argentina, where their caterpillars feed on Opuntia,
and despite some misgivings by many who doubted it would solve
the problem, they
soon had it under control, reduced to just a few plants
here and there, the situation which we mostly still see
today. Those few plants harbour caterpillars that keep
the moth populations going. It is one of the world's
most successful examples of biological control (in contrast to
the disastrous introduction of cane toads for example).
Hence the Cactoblastis Memorial Hall, which we'll visit soon
after leaving Chinchilla.
Finally we'll see mountains again, and ascend to Toowoomba
once more. This time we'll stop for lunch at
Cobb's Cafe, and explore the Cobb n Co Museum, which not
only has a large and diverse array of horse-drawn vehicles,
but displays of Indigenous History, and. once again, fossils
of animals no longer roaming the Australian countryside.
From there it's a downhill journey via the water
catchments of the east coast back to Brisbane.