Things are a changing in outback Queensland. Once a destination esteemed only for hardy experienced off-road adventurers: those with a swag, billy, and robust four-wheel drive vehicle.
Travel into the outback today, and you are likely to meet families, backpackers, international travellers, corporates escaping the daily grind and retirees pulling their caravans. Why is this so?
Monique Johnson, Marketing and Events Coordinator at the Murweh Shire Council based at Charleville, considered the gateway to Queensland’s outback, expressed surprise at the change in the traveller demographics.
“We cannot believe the diversity of travellers into the outback. It’s a very changing landscape. Today we are seeing 50% of our market grey nomads, 25% families and 25% international and others. And our numbers are increasing – dramatically. In March 2017, our visitor numbers at the Cosmos Centre in Charleville were 299 where in March 2016 they were 135.”
Monique attributes this to several reasons. “People feel safe in the outback and are looking for something very different to do. It’s all about the experience. While we now have good internet in most outback towns, it’s a time where they can get off the grid without the hassles of overseas travel, visas, airport line ups and delays. They sit around a fire, talk with each other, look up at the stars and spend time reconnecting.”
Improved roads, good coffee, hearty meals, and intimate experiences are only adding to the experience for travellers says Monique. The days of over-brewed billy tea and instant coffee are long gone. “Specific drive itineraries leading from one unique experience to another are enticing people to discover their own backyard and learn about Australia but most importantly its cheap enough for them to be on the road. At the end of the day you can offer the world, but it gets down to the back pocket and the outback is an affordable holiday.”
One such drive is the Natural Sciences Loop which incorporates four shires of southern outback Queensland: Murweh, Quilpie, Bulloo and Paroo. These Shires include the towns of Charleville, Quilpie, Eromanga, Thargomindah and Cunnamulla plus a few more. Along the way there are dinosaurs, the enormous southern sky, precious opals, endangered bilbies, the Great Artesian water Basin, national parks, history, and geology to encounter.
The outback has become a big draw card for internationals as well, both for those in Australia on working visas needing an extension and those after an outback experience.
Dogga Dare, publican at the Toompine Hotel, ‘the pub without a town’ south of Quilpie, says the backpackers come initially to work and extend their visas and ‘then we can’t get rid of them.’
“They see what a fun place the outback is. Everyone is your mate. Treat us right and you have friends for life. Anyone who reckons the outback is boring should come on out – we are far from that.”
Brooke Geary is one such example. A young female engineer, she now calls Miles in far western Queensland her home and she does not envy her city comrades battling peak hour traffic. “I love it here and who wouldn’t. My advice is come on out. We have a great social life with something on most weekends and I have no traffic to deal with to get to work.”
Monique reiterates this changing trend being echoed around the vast plains of the outback. “I attend all the major travel and caravan and camping shows around Australia every year. We are seeing a large increase in the family, European and Asian markets coming specifically to see us for an outback adventure.”
With more sealed roads, comfortable accommodation, spacious campgrounds and world-class attractions such as the Cosmos Centre, not to mention the welcoming locals, there is little wonder the outback is becoming a big draw card. Have you discovered it yet?
Story and photography by Danielle Lancaster, owner of Blue Dog Photography Tours.