DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
Queensland has gazetted a number of former grazing properties as national parks, to conserve significant geography, flora and fauna, as well as for pastoral historical value. We’ve picked out three parks that lie north-south between the Savannah Way and the Diamantina.
Blackbraes National Park
Adjacent to Blackbraes National Park and Blackbraes Regional Park are Moonstone Hill and Kennedy Road Gravel regional parks.
The Park and the three reserves cover about 52,000 hectares and straddle the Einasleigh Uplands and Gulf Plains bioregions.
Undulating hills and ranges surround basalt outcrops, black soil plains and seasonal swamps. The park and reserves are above 850m elevation and so have a wetter and generally cooler climate than the surrounding country.
The Moonstone Hill Regional Park’s volcanic crater is popular for fossicking gem-quality feldspar called moonstone. Moonstone emits a silvery-white to blue colour when turned in certain directions. Fossicking in the reserve requires a licence from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines.
The highlight of Blackbraes National Park is a partially restored farmhouse that retains much of its former glory. A giant tree in the front yard is home to a cubby house and a tyre swing.
There’s no camping near the house, but there is a great bush camp setup near Emu Swamp.
The camping area is open during the dry season, between March and November, but there are no facilities, so visitors must be self-sufficient.
Camping permits can be obtained from the self-registration shelter at the Blackbraes ranger base.
Moorrinya National Park
Moorrinya National Park consists of 32,607 hectares, located in the heart of the Desert Uplands, protecting 18 vegetation communities in the Lake Eyre Basin, one of Australia’s most important catchments.
This remote park has dry, flat plains criss-crossed by watercourses and covered in open eucalypt, paperbark and acacia woodlands and grasslands.
Moorrinya is a wildlife refuge, protecting kangaroos, koalas, emus and wedge-tailed eagles, as well as threatened species including the square-tailed kite, squatter pigeon and Julia Creek dunnart.
Moorrinya National Park was initially established as a sheep grazing property, Shirley Station. In the late 1970s, cattle replaced sheep and grazing continued until the National Park was established in 1993.
Much of the sheep station infrastructure, dating back to the late 1940s, remains as a reminder of the spirit and hard work of the people who lived in this remote part of Queensland.
The Shirley Shearing Shed has been completely restored, giving visitors an accurate idea of the way shearing was conducted last century.
The site also has a seven-site camping area, with composting toilet. A camping permit is required and fees apply.
The Shed is easily found by following directional signs from the 4WD-track entrance on the Aramac to Torrens Creek Road.
From the campsite there’s an easy, short walk to Bullock Creek. At the creek look for native fish, including spangled perch, glassfish and silver catfish.
Waterbirds, including the hoary-headed grebe and Australasian darter, may be seen searching for food among the reeds.
Lochern National Park
Lochern National Park is a former grazing property that was declared a national park in 1994.
The principal reasons for its declaration were that the former property sits on a Thomson River frontage of more than 20 kilometres and hosts the four species of Mitchell Grass – bull, curly, barley and hoop – and great numbers of plants, birds and animals typical of the undisturbed Channel Country.
The Park was enlarged in 2004 and again in 2008.
The original homestead has been restored as the ranger’s quarters and an information centre that bristles with relics of the sheep grazing days, including ‘Lochern’ stencils for branding wool bales. A surprising exhibit is a beautifully made iron boat, crafted many years ago by Harvey’s of Margaret Street, Brisbane.
The shearers’ quarters and the remains of the woolshed are short distance away. The shearers’ kitchen is just as it was left years ago, complete with its large wood stove.
Plumbing in the shearers’ quarters has been refurbished, so it’s possible to have a hot shower. Flushing toilets are a bush luxury.
Unfortunately, termites have had a field day with the frame of the woolshed and it’s dangerous to go inside. However, the sheet iron cladding is intact, so restoration is possible.
The old meat house is in good condition and is typical of the meshed and ventilated meat safes of the early 1900s.
For those who want a waterfront campsite Lochern National Park provides two choices: the billabong shore at Broadwater and the Thomson River frontage at the Park’s eastern boundary. We camped at the Broadwater; surely one of the most beautiful campsites anywhere.
The marked track to the Broadwater ends at the edge of a steep bank that runs down to a long, tree-fringed billabong. This mini-lake fills from a tributary of the Thomson and is home to thousands of birds.
It’s possible to camp right near the water’s edge, under the shade of Coolabah trees.
Camping permits are required and fees apply. A camping tag with your booking number must be displayed at your camp site.
The noisiest birds are red-tailed black-cockatoos and Major Mitchell cockatoos, but in the woodland sections you may hear the crested bellbird’s ringing sound.
In the grasslands we came across emus and brolgas and an Australian bustard did a low-flying demo for us.
If you have a small row boat or canoe – no petrol engines please – you can tour the length of the Broadwater and fish in the Lochern waterways. Fishing is permitted, but fish size and bag limits apply. (Contact the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation for more information about fishing regulations.)
Lochern Habitat Drive is a two to four hour scenic drive that is only accessible by 4WD vehicles, in good weather. The track is shut after heavy rain. There’s a self-guided tour leaflet available from the information centre. The track runs through stands of gidgee, bloodwood and mulga before heading onto the Mitchell grass plains and floodplains of the Thomson River. Bluebush Lagoon is a great waterbird watching site.
There’s a touching memorial near the second campsite, on the Thomson, dedicated to Norman Anthony Quinlan.
As a private in the AIF’s 42nd Battalion he’d survived the hell of World War I and in 1924 he was managing nearby Florida Station.
He had just drafted a mob of cattle to Goon Goon and was returning home to his pregnant wife, Gwen, and their two small children.
The Thomson was in flood and, desperate to be with his family, Norman braved the torrent but was swept away and drowned.