If you drop a pin on the very centre of a map of Queensland chances are you'll hit Longreach. The outback town, named after the "long reach" of the Thomson River which runs through it, is an important regional hub. The traditional industries of cattle and sheep farming have been augmented by a push for the tourism dollar, with former pastoralists, the Kinnon family, some of the key players. They run sunset cruises on a restored paddle steamer, Cobb & Co coach rides on the town commons, and farm visits with sheep shearing demonstrations that give a flavour of both historic and contemporary outback life.
The Stockmans' Hall of Fame (outbackheritage.com.au) is devoted not only to the cattlemen of its name, but to the history and culture of life in rural Australia. The explorers, pastoralists, stockmen and Aboriginal workers who have shaped the outback are celebrated in photographs, archival material and interactive displays. One of its most fascinating exhibits looks at the history of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and includes recorded conversations between remote stations and the doctor's radio centre, where the RFDS medics diagnose an illness and instruct the farm residents how to treat it.
No stay in Longreach is complete without a visit to the Qantas Founders Outback Museum (qfom.com.au). Indeed if you arrive by air, you almost visit it by default, as one of its main drawcards – a retired Qantas Boeing 747 parked next to the airport – is Longreach's principal landmark. The fascinating history of our national carrier and by default the development of civil aviation in Australia is told through interactive displays in the museum. However, clambering through the Boeing 747 as well as a 1959 custom-fitted Boeing 707 is the real highlight.
Let's face it: you don't come to Outback Queensland for the food. That said, pub dinners and old-fashioned bakeries have their charm, especially if you're travelling with kids, and limited choice is perfect justification for iconic parmas, lemonade spiders and snot blocks (aka vanilla slices). Longreach RSL (facebook.com/Longreach-RSL-Memorial-Services-Club) has won multiple awards as Queensland's best licensed small club and has an extensive menu of steaks, burgers and pasta, while Merino Bakery (facebook.com/Merino-Bakery-Longreach) does excellent pies and serves its lamingtons with cream.
If you have time to hire a car from Longreach airport and head out of town for a few days along the so-called Dinosaur Route (australiasdinosaurtrail.com) to Winton, Richmond and Hughenden. Outside paleontology circles, it's a little known fact that this part of Australia is incredibly rich in Cretaceous period fossils, and the fossilised remains of massive plant eating sauropods and carnivorous theropods are among the drawcards of the region. Winton's Australian Age of Dinosaurs is a definite highlight as is Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond where you can fossick for your own fossils.
Kinnon & Co Outback Lodges (kinnonandco.com.au) near the airport and the Stockman's Hall of Fame, has heritage-inspired self-contained Stables accommodation, with a queen bed and bunk beds in each room, perfect for a family of four (from $195 a night). The shaded communal pool area is a blessing when the mercury rises. In the same compound are Pioneer Slab Huts and simple Outback Lodge rooms.
If you take a ride in one of the Kinnon family's replica Cobb and Co coach across the town commons, be sure to nab the posh seats, at the top of the coach facing backwards. It gives you a taste of the rigours and discomfort of early outback travel. And the scones for "smoko" afterwards are divine.
Sally Webb travelled courtesy of Queensland Tourism.