At first glance, Barcaldine, or Barcy (pronounced Bark-y) as she’s known to locals, has very little to do with a tree’s bark, beyond the famous Tree of Knowledge. But, take another look and you’ll start to see this town is obsessed with the stuff.
In fact, every street in this town of 1600 people is named after a tree. From Oak Street to Elm Street, the town is lined with ghost gums and ironbark, making this one of the lushest (even when the town’s dry) Outback Queensland towns to visit.
It is, after all, known as Outback Queensland’s ‘Garden City’.
If you find yourself 100 kilometres east of Longreach and 100 kilometres north of Blackall, here’s how we recommend you visit the town where the grass is always greener.
1. Pay homage to the Tree of Knowledge
This site might be deeply rooted in history, but the Tree of Knowledge is also the piece-de-resistance of Oak Street thanks to the public art that now towers over the famous ghost gum that stands beneath it. Set directly in front of the Barcaldine railway station, the Tree of Knowledge is best known as the birthplace of the Labour Party and location for the first Australian shearer’s strike. But this tree has many more accolades stemming back over its 200-year history. After the tree was illegally poisoned in 2006, Brian Hooper Architect and M3architecture were tasked with adding more bark to Barcy, designing the structure that you see today over this heritage-listed tree. Comprised of 4913 different timbers, the Tree of Knowledge is now not just a ghost gum but a sculpture that could be described as Australia’s largest wind chime. It’s best viewed in the morning sun or in the late afternoon, when you can really see the amber hues of the structure’s timber, which is made from recycled telephone poles. By night, phosphorescent paint shines bright green and purple against the structure giving another perspective to this work of art. Just as the Eiffel Tower divided the Parisians, the ‘Barcaldinites’ also have split opinions of the “black box” that now frames their famous tree. Take it from us – if you want to create some small talk with a local or entice debate over a bevy, just mention the sculpture and find out what the locals have to say.
Tip: Don’t forget to look down when you visit the Tree of Knowledge. The tree’s original root ball can be seen through thick, non-reflective glass. If you look closely, you’ll also be able to see a man’s ashes that he requested to be buried in its root system.
2. Visit Dunraven Station
For a town that ‘rode on the a sheep’s back’ to prosperity, it makes sense that a sheep station is high on the to-do list in Barcaldine. In 1861, there were 394,655 sheep in Barcaldine, but today there are just 60,000 sheep in town. Although still a prime industry, the town’s aim is to “bring back the sheep” (industry) and the jobs that go with it. For a taste of life on the land, point your bonnet 5-kilometers south of town and 14-kilometers inland, to Dunraven Station. Set on 25,000 hectares, the station has been in the Donoleys’ family for over 100 years – and today Roberta and Paul are more than happy to share their family’s story with visitors to the local area. Although Dunraven is rated to run 21,000 sheep, they are currently only running 3300 sheep as a result of the drought. The only silver lining to this turn of weather events is that this affords the Donoleys more time to run their tag-a-long 4WD tours across their spectacular station.
Tip: Tours take two hours and guarantee plenty of sunsets and sheep photos.
Call 0427 511 651 for more information.
3. Take a pub crawl
When there are 1600 people in town and five pubs on the main street alone, you know the odds are forever in your favour to find a cold beverage in Barcaldine. Make like a college student and set yourself a pub crawl challenge of O-Week proportions, making your way up and down Oak Street to try a schooner in them all. By the time you’re done, you’ll be thankful that the other six pubs once in town, have since shut down. Each pub sports a rich history of over 100 years – some of them even still wear evidence of fire, flood and fights from a century’s worth of Outback hospitality. Visitors are well spotted by the Barcaldine bar flies, who take great pleasure in regaling the history of their establishment-of-choice as well as promoting the town’s best attractions. If you run out of things to talk about, just ask a local about the ‘dog fences’ and prepare for a beginners course in shepherding.
4. Watch sun set at Lara Wetlands
It’s not just campers who are happy at Lara Wetlands – day-trippers love it here too. You’ll find this true outback oasis just 28 kilometres south of Barcaldine and 13 kilometres inland from the Landsborough Highway. It’s accessible by two-wheel drive, but be prepared to take your car along some unsealed roads and cattle grids. You’ll not only find a campground on a working station, but an activity area to keep everyone entertained, even if it is just a day trip. Discover the wetlands by canoe or kayak, or take a therapeutic dip in a natural artesian pool, heated to perfection like a big, outback hot tub. The wetlands are a photographer’s dream with dead ghost gums standing proud out of the water. They are so beautiful that this writer went twice – to capture their silhouettes while the sun receded behind them and then a second to take starry photographs in this eerily perfect bush setting.
Tip: Camping and day fees apply at this private landscape, so bring some cash with you for your visit.
5. Dine like it’s the outback
When in Barcy, eat like a Barcaldinite – and split your time between these local favourites:
Ironbark Motel Inn
On site at the Ironbark Motel you’ll find a venue that’s part restaurant – part bar – part under croft packed full of that home away from home feeling. From these digs, knock back a seafood basket, battered Barra, steak or pizza and wash it down with a selection from the modest beer and wine list.
Looking after all your morning tea, afternoon and lunch needs, make tracks to the Barcaldine Bakery. The queue for a coffee is often out the door – a good indication of what to expect in the cappuccino stakes. With their own ‘Barcaldine blend’ pouring from the coffee machines, it’s one of the best spots to get your day started if you’re a coffee lover.
Special shout out to their pepper steak pie – the best pastry parcel this writer found out west!
For wood fired pizzas that are as authentic as you get in the Outback – set your GPS to the Lounging Emu. You can order by phone, email or uhf radio – which is how you know this is a fair dinkum establishment. The chefs behind the oven, whip up a mean Marghertia, dripping with melted fior di latte mozzarella. For those chasing more flavour should take on their “Flamin’ Emu” – a combination of pepperoni, rib eye fillet, jalapenos, fior di latte, Napoli sauce, herbs and parmesan.
You’d be very wrong to refer to this pub as the Shakespeare – in town, it’s known as ‘The Shakey’. And, we’re pretty sure if you listen carefully you can hear William turning in his grave with the thought of being abbreviated to two syllables. Jokes aside, you’ll find a cracking lunch and dinner menu, which we recommend you enjoyed at the bar so you can swap stories over pork cutlets and crumbed steaks with your fellow diners.
Ridgee Didge Cafe
Serving hands-down Barcaldine’s best breakfast, Ridgee Didge Cafe is the brainchild of Cheryl Thompson, who spent decades in the big smoke of Brisbane before returning to her Barcaldine roots to leave her mark on the town. The coffee roasted here is Outback Queensland’s first indigenous blend – Coolamon Coffee –that evokes the outback spirit and Aboriginality of her cafe. ‘Yolks on oak’ is a breakfast favourite – think perfectly poached eggs on sourdough with grilled tomatoes and wilted spinach. Bon appetite!
6. Walk Lagoon Creek
Take a walk on the wild side with Barcaldine’s answer to a boardwalk at Lagoon Creek. Since Barcaldine is without a river system, this two-kilometre track carries avid bird watchers and keen walkers along the banks of the Lagoon Creek. The bulrush plants which line the creek bed are packed with bird life, enough to draw twitchers from around the world to see the some 200 species who nest in the Barcaldine area. Free exercise equipment makes this a hotspot with locals, and come sunset it’s popular with locals of another kind. It’s not uncommon to see wildlife, such as kangaroos, emus and birds by the banks of Lagoon Creek as they treat it like a bar – drinking water, getting into mischief and making a ruckus.
7. Take an architectural tour-de-Barcaldine
It’s not just station houses and quintessential outback pubs this far west. For a town so small, Barcaldine punches well beyond its weight in the interesting architecture stakes, with two heritage-listed buildings in as many blocks. Don’t leave the west without checking out the Masonic Lodge, which was built in 1901 and stands out as one of the most unusual designs this side of the Great Dividing Range. Although built from tin and timber, it’s painted to look like it’s made from stone. The paintwork is so successful and 3D to the naked eye that you’ll be tempted to touch it just to see if it’s really brick after all (this writer did!). For those wanting to go inside, you’ll have to arrange private entry with the lodge Mason (via the Visitor Information Centre) – however, it’s exterior is certainly its most remarkable angle. Just down the road, you’ll find the Radio Picture Theatre, which was first opened in 1926 as a silent theatre, with its iconic navy blue Art Deco facade. Today, the theatre operates on weekends (Friday and Sunday nights) showing the latest movies. No matter what you see, the hardest part is trying to stay awake in the original canvas seats, which are more like little hammocks and perfectly sized for snuggling up.
8. Drink the water
There’s certainly an element of one-upmanship when it comes to towns and the quality of their water. We see your Evian and Mount Franklin and raise you Barcaldine’s basin. This aqua is A+. Barcaldine holds the title for ‘best tasting water’ in Queensland and New South Wales (2016), a title the local townsfolk are all too happy to share with any visitors passing through. Barcaldine’s water comes up from the Great Artesian Basin – and has been the liquid gold and lifeblood of the town since 1910. Until 2006, the 125 foot black and white tower held Barcaldine’s water supply, however the town’s water supply has now been moved to a much larger (and less iconic) green tank on Yew Street. Now, about the only thing this tower holds is its own engineering heritage-listing due to its important role in the history of Barcaldine.
Other things to do:
More than just an eight-trick pony, there are plenty more things to see and do in Barcaldine. If you’re in town for a while, it’s also worth checking out these sites:
- Learn about the history of the bygone windmill on Oak Street;
- Enjoy a dose of history and heritage at The Australian Workers Heritage Centre;
- Walk the town’s centre and see how many murals you can spot, including one by the iconic Aussie painter D’Arcy Doyle;
- Take an Artesian Country Tour to find out some of the ancient and geological history of the area;
- Hire bikes to get around. We forgot to mention Barcaldine is topographically flat, making pedal power the ideal way to get between the sites.
If in doubt, pay a visit to the Visitor Information Centre where the staff find plenty of excuses for you to extend your stay in Barcaldine.
Did we miss anything? What’s your favourite thing to do in Barcaldine?
By Hannah Statham.