If you listen to anyone born and raised in Barcaldine (also known as Barcy), they’ll tell you that no matter where you go in the world, you’ll always find someone with a connection to Barcaldine. Although sceptical at first, it turns out there is some truth to their theory, and a weekend at the Tree of Knowledge Festival will prove it.
Nothing brings ‘Barcaldinites’ home faster than the Tree of Knowledge Festival, which is held every year over the Queensland Labour Day long weekend, making it the perfect time of year to test the hypothesis. If you’ve heard about the fabled Goat Races and are desperate to see a combination of horns and hooves take to the track, here’s how we recommend you experience the festival over a long weekend:
10AM: Fast track your road to the outback
Kickstart your outback adventure with a quintessential mail run flight from Brisbane into Longreach (via) Blackall. You’ll want to request a window seat if you want to best see the landscape known as Artesian country. If you don’t want to fly, you can also drive (13 hours from Brisbane), bus or train (22 hours from Brisbane) direct to Barcy.
1PM: Fuel up at Merino Bakery
After collecting your hire car, fuel up – and we’re not talking about petrol or diesel here! You didn’t come all this way to skip out on an outback pie did you? Start your trip the right way with the first of many meat pies. The Merino Bakery lays claim to the best pie in Longreach, so stuff your pie hole with a Merino and see what all the fuss is about. After one bite of the pepper steak and cheese, you’ll see why this pastry has been afforded the coveted title.
2PM: Hit the road to Barcy
If Longreach is said to be the heart of Outback Queensland, the Matilda Highway, which connects Longreach to Barcaldine, is without a doubt this region’s main artery. This 1812-kilometre stretch of tarmac connects the Karumba north with the Cunnamulla south, connecting a geographic area bigger than Germany. For this itinerary, you’ll cover just 100km of the entire Matilda Way journey, but it will give you a taste of what else is in-store on this great outback road. For photo lovers – you’ll find plenty of opportunities to stop and stretch your legs along this drive. The signage between Longreach and Barcaldine resembles the Hollywood walk of fame, rattling off directions to Outback Queensland’s most famous towns – Mount Isa, Julia Creek and Charleville to name a few – all worthy of a photo.
3PM: Check in to your digs
Accommodation comes in a few different formats in this town of 1600 people, but no matter how you choose to stay, you’ll want to book early during festival season to avoid sell out. There’s no shortage of space to drop your caravan steadies if travelling by van to the ‘Garden City’ of the outback. There are three caravan sites in town to choose from, along with endless council-based van parks in the Showgrounds. Motel-wise, there are five choices, and of course you can kick it truly outback-style by hitting the hay at one of the historic hotels on Oak Street. We check into the Ironbark Motel, which can be found in the Blackall direction of Barcaldine (that’s how directions are given in town). It offers comfortable rooms, twin share sleeping arrangements, and an onsite restaurant kitchen, which pumps out reportedly one of the best dinners in town. As far as accommodation goes, it’s ideal for people who like mere steps between their last glass of Pinot Noir and their pillow.
7PM: Lamb Street Party
To open the festival, Oak Street, transforms into a food truck haven as visitors and locals soak up the autumn temperatures by dining alfresco. In keeping with the theme “bring back the sheep”, the main street is re-labelled “Lamb Street’ to celebrate the some 60,000 sheep that graze in this western Queensland town. From pulled lamb rolls to roast lamb baguettes – the festival theme is taken seriously. What’s more, you won’t only find stars in the sky – this year an Elvis Tribute band warmed the crowd, proving that “the King” is very much alive in Barcaldine.
8AM: Go market-to-market
Forget what you know about inner-city farmers markets and go right to the belly of the beast in Barcaldine. The Tree of Knowledge markets are packed with everything from homemade candles to cowhide clutches, worthy of a place on fashion week. Seriously, just check out JF Hides. City fads have not escaped this part of the world, either – and clean eating treats can be purchased a couple of stalls down from succulent stand at this market too. For those chasing a CWA fix, homemade ANZAC biscuits and lemon butter were also a plenty, proving to this writer that Outback Queensland is still home to the best home-cooks in Australia.
10AM: Sheep shearing
Join the town this morning to celebrate the shearers who make the wool-industry-go-round. After watching the physicality of this sheep shearing demonstration, we promise you won’t take your office job for granted again! Hosted by Ross Shearing, the team brings their mobile shearing services to Oak Street to put on a display of muscle and mutton as they shear 100 sheep in return for the applause of the crowd. The sheep industry by numbers is certainly a curious one. With the aid of electric shears, these burly men can shear up to 1000 sheep a day, pocketing $2.48 per sheep – worth every penny when you see the labour that goes into the process. Each fleece of wool can be sold for $50/fleece or $100/sheep while it’s still wearing its coat. Overlay higher than ever demand for lamb meat, which is driving the price, and you start to see why the town is so keen to “bring back the sheep”.
12NOON onwards: Back a winner at the Barcaldine Races
Nobody puts on a race meet quite like Outback Queensland and the Tree of Knowledge Cup is no exception. Here, punters swap the roses and lush lawns of Flemington for the red clay pan track of the Outback.Not only does the environment provide a hard track for the horses to compete, but it also showers racegoers with a complimentary covering of red dirt at the conclusion of each race. Unlike other outback race meets, this is not one where you want to hold your fascinators and replace them with form guides. The Fashions On The Field appear to yield higher stakes than the races themselves if the crowd of onlookers is anything to go by. A word of warning if attending – bring your A-game and dress up for this day out at the track.
5PM: Goat Races
What do you do when you have a feral goat infestation? Race em’, of course! Barcy is nothing if not resourceful and the goat races, which are the icing on the festival’s cake, are testament to that. To enter a goat, the recipe is simple. You just need to capture a goat, break it in and find yourself a rider. Presto, you’re now an official trainer (eds note: it could be more complicated but that’s what this writer got from trackside chat). The esteemed jockeys are children aged between 8-12 who sit in a chariot, steering with only reigns. As the starter gun cracks, the goats take off down the 60 metre track, clocking anywhere upwards of 10km/h. What gets punter’s goat (pun intended!) is that despite the starting barrier, experience of the rider and the stead, a lot can change in the course of 60 meters and many goats find their way off course and out of the race. You’ll find that goat racing adds more variables than Charleville’s guinea pig races when it comes to backing a winner. Why so spritely you ask? A diet of corn two weeks before the race meet keeps the goats-on-their-hooves, so to speak.
7.30PM: Strikers Town Party
The outback sure knows how to party and the Strikers Town Party, held at the Showground, is no exception. Bringing in all the essentials – drinks and food trucks – this is one party we doubt anyone in the town would miss. You won’t just find hot chips and meat pies here, either. The food trucks take on a multicultural flavour with the Nepalese curry selling out faster than tickets to an Adele concert. On our visit, an array of bands kept the crowd pumping with everything from the Yeppoon High School Band to the Legends of Rock (Elvis, Johnny O’Keefe and Buddy Holly), pleasing everyone from the eighteen-month-olds to the eighty-year-olds, who took to the dance floor.
8AM: Get your fingers in every pie
Like a tale of two cities, Barcaldine has a tale of two bakeries – Barcaldine Bakery and Satisfaction Bakery. For breakfast, choose between the two (or why not do both) to see who ‘pies it better’ in this Outback Queensland town. For this writer, Barcaldine Bakery was a crust above the rest, with whole chunky steak pieces inside a pastry parcel.
9AM: Get your motor running with Barcy Rev Fest
Although this event officially kicks off at 9am, don’t be surprised if you’re woken up earlier to the purr of V8’s warming up at the race track. The sounds of rumbling engines reverberate across Barcaldine’s sandy plains, letting everyone know the cars are in town. The “eighth mile drag race, outback style” delivers a taste of The Fast And The Furious to Outback Queensland, and brings car buffs and petrol heads together at the Barcaldine Airport tarmac. On the tarmac track, you’ll find everything from Honda bikes to Mustangs and muscle cars, which are divided into three categories – mild, wild and wicked – to race before facing a “Chicago Shoot Out” style until the final rounds. Spectators are stationed right at the starting line and are promised to see speeds over 160km per hour over the 200-metre course. Don’t expect a magnum of bubbly on the finish line, but a skull trophy, in keeping this competition “outback style”.
Tip: Bring your earplugs! Things get noisy here.
11AM: Turn back time at the Barcaldine Museum (complete with Miniature Trains)
In keeping with the theme of breathing new life into forgotten items, what was once the National Australia Bank for Barcaldine is now the Barcaldine Historical Museum. Those who like treasure hunts should try and spot the piano that’s older than the town itself or, more unusual still, the fruitcake, which was baked by a celebrated local cook in 1976. We’re not sure what mouldy remains are left inside the alfoil, but we’re curious nonetheless! For the little ones, take a ride on the miniature train that runs through the property, or visit the steam engine and wool scour equipment are now retired as sculptures on the property.
12NOON: Take a town tour
If you like history and want to hear it from the words of a fourth generation Barcaldinite, make tracks to The Globe for a one-hour town tour. Kylie’s tours take off from ‘The Globe’, which could contend with the Tree of Knowledge for best architecture on Oak Street. The now charcoal and white building was once the old “Workers Pub” – a status it held from 1910 until 2011. Since then, it’s been modernised in a $3 Million makeover, which saw the iconic building go under the knife to transfer the bar it into a world-class Visitor Information Centre and Art Gallery Space. Be sure to save enough time for the tour and to see the collection of art in the gallery above the centre, including original sculptures by D’Arcy Doyles and Milynda Rogers.
10AM: May Day Parade
Marching for a cause is something you can expect from a town that brought the Labour Party into existence. And it turns out, Barcaldinites will march for just about anything. From their love of Star Wars, the love of their town or their political party of choice (Labour only here, of course) – the May Day parade is a motley mix of reasons to show cause. Everyone is invited to march – so bring your best voice and shout “bring back the sheep”.
Want more? Don’t forget these 8 things to do in Barcaldine.
Is it time you discovered not what you know, but who you know from Barcaldine at the Tree of Knowledge Festival?
NOTE: Times mentioned in this blog may be subject to change! Ensure you check the latest event program by heading to the Barcaldine Tree of Knowledge Festival Website.