Things to do in Barcaldine
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 1300 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.
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, architect Brian Hooper was tasked with adding more bark to Barcy, designing the structure that you see today over this heritage-listed tree. 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. By night, phosphorescent paint shines bright green and purple against the structure giving another perspective to this work of art.
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.
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.
When there are 1300 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 sheep herding.
Day-trippers love Lara Wetlands. 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 working station, but an activity area to keep everyone entertained. 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.
When in Barcy, eat like a Barcaldinite – and split your time between these local favourites:
- Barcaldine Bakery
- Ironbark Motel Inn
- Ridgee Didge Cafe
- Roses & Things
- Satisfaction Bakery
- Shakespeare Hotel
- Witches Kitchen (Union Hotel)
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.
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.
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.
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.